March 25, 2009

Drinkers Beware: Face Flushing Sign of Cancer Risk

If your face gets flushed when you drink alcohol, you could be in danger of developing esophageal cancer.

Researchers said facial flushing after drinking is predominately caused by an inherited deficiency in an enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase 2, or ALDH2. There is growing evidence that ALDH2-deficient people are at a much higher risk of esophageal cancer, specifically squamous cell carcinoma, from alcohol consumption than those individuals with fully active ALDH-2.

Doctors from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Institutes of Health and the Kurihama Alcohol Center in Japan are trying to spread the word that people who experience facial flushing after drinking should reduce their alcohol consumption and be screened for endoscopic cancer.

There are about 540 million ALDH-2-deficient patients in the world, so even a small percent reduction in esophageal cancers due to a reduction in alcohol drinking would translate into a substantial number of lives saved, researchers said.

Esophageal cancer is one of the deadliest cancers, with five-year survival rates of 15.6 percent in the United States, 12.3 percent in Europe and 31.6 percent in Japan. Nearly one third of East Asians experience facial flushing, nausea and an increased heart rate after drinking alcohol.

SOURCE: PLoS Medicine, March 2009