April 22, 2010
By: Richard Alleyne
Researchers have found that drinking damages part of the cells that are linked to premature ageing and cancer.
They discovered that it causes stress and inflammation to telomeres – the ends of DNA strands that stop them unravelling much like the ends of shoelaces.
As people age, telomere length shortens progressively and eventually they are so damaged the cell dies.
The study found alcohol accelerates this process.
Since telomere shortening is thought to also increase cancer risk, the researchers speculated that those with shorter telomeres due to heavy alcohol consumption would have an increased risk of cancer.
Andrea Baccarelli, the lead researcher at the University of Milan in Italy, said: “Heavy alcohol users tend to look haggard, and it is commonly thought heavy drinking leads to premature ageing and earlier onset of diseases of ageing.”
The researchers looked at more than 250 volunteers some of whom drank more than four alcoholic drinks per day.
They were similar in age and other factors that might affect telomere length, such as diet, physical exercise, work-related stress and environmental exposures.
Results showed that telomere length was dramatically shortened in those who consumed heavy amounts of alcohol. In some telomere length was nearly half as long as telomere length in the non-abusers.
Results of the study were presented at the American Association for Cancer Research’s annual conference.
March 23, 2010
By: Maria Cheng
Up to a third of breast cancer cases in Western countries could be avoided if women ate less and exercised more, researchers at a conference on breast cancer said Thursday.
While better treatments, early diagnosis and mammogram screenings have dramatically slowed the disease, experts said the focus should now shift to changing behaviours like diet and physical activity.
“What can be achieved with screening has been achieved. We can’t do much more,” Carlo La Vecchia, head of epidemiology at the University of Milan, told The Associated Press. “It’s time to move onto other things.”
La Vecchia spoke Thursday on the influence of lifestyle factors at a European breast cancer conference in Barcelona.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. In Europe, there were about 421,000 new cases and nearly 90,000 deaths in 2008, the latest available figures. The United States last year saw more than 190,000 new cases and 40,000 deaths. A woman’s lifetime chance of getting breast cancer is about one in eight.
Many breast cancers are fueled by estrogen, a hormone produced in fat tissue. So experts suspect that the fatter a woman is, the more estrogen she’s likely to produce, which could in turn spark breast cancer. Even in slim women, exercise can help reduce the cancer risk by converting more of the body’s fat into muscle.
That means staying slim and never becoming overweight in the first place. Robert Baan, an IARC cancer expert, said it wasn’t clear if women who lose weight have a lower cancer risk or if the damage was already done from when they were heavy.
Drinking less alcohol could also help. Experts estimate that having more than a couple of drinks a day can boost a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer by four to 10 per cent.
After studies several years ago linked hormone replacement therapy to cancer, millions of women abandoned the treatment, leading to a sharp drop in breast cancer rates. Experts said a similar reduction might be seen if women ate better – consuming less fat and more vegetables – and exercised more.
“Women who have early pregnancies are protected against breast cancer, but teenage pregnancy is a social disaster so it’s not something we want to encourage,” she said in a phone interview. “But there’s no downside to reducing obesity and increasing physical activity.”
She also said people may mistakenly think their chances of getting cancer are more dependent on their genes than their lifestyle.
“The genes have been there for thousands of years, but if cancer rates are changing in a lifetime, that doesn’t have much to do with genes,” she said.
In the 1980s and 1990s, breast cancer rates steadily increased, in parallel with the rise in obesity and the use of hormone replacement therapy, which involves estrogen.
“It’s hard to lose weight, but it’s not impossible,” he said. “The potential benefit of preventing cancer is worth it.”