Drinking alcohol can increase your risk of cancer because ethanol is itself a carcinogen on certain parts of the body, scientists have found.
Researchers said they found that when ethanol is broken down by the body, it can cause DNA damage that may lead to dangerous changes to the cells.
The U.S team from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in Maryland, used human cells engineered to produce an enzyme that is found in liver and breast tissue.
They exposed the cells to a concentration of alcohol similar to blood alcohol levels attained after having a few drinks on a night out.
The results confirmed that the alcohol (ethanol) was being converted to acetaldehyde, causing DNA damage and switching on the cell’s DNA repair genes.
Study author Philip J Brooks, said: ‘Although the link between drinking alcohol and certain types of cancers was first established in the 1980s the existence of such a relationship did not prove that alcohol itself caused the cancers.
‘More recent evidence, however, has confirmed that alcohol – or more specifically, ethanol – is carcinogenic to humans at several sites in the body.’
Dr Brooks said the carcinogenic role of acetaldehyde came to light after East Asians were found to have an elevated risk of oesophageal cancer.