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Wednesday, 15 May, 2002, 23:38 GMT 00:38 UK
Alcohol 'speeds cancer growth'
Drinking too much could speed cancer
Heavy drinking could hasten the progression of cancer, according to experiments in mice carried out in the US.

While heavy drinking has been linked with the development of a number of cancers, there has been little research as to whether alcohol consumption has any bearing on the progress of the disease.

The research, from Washington State University, suggests that this may be the case in some cancers.

A group of mice with melanoma tumours were given diets in which a high quantity of their calories derived from alcohol.

They found the alcohol-fed mice lost body fat - and had poorer survival times than mice on an alcohol-free diet.

The researchers believe it may be the loss of body fat which is key to the rapid progress of the cancer.

Shorter survival

Professor Gary Meadows, from the university, said: "Alcohol consumption caused a loss of body fat in the mice with melanoma, and this was associated with a decrease in survival of the melanoma bearing mice.

"This could be important because cancer patients often lose a lot of weight near the end of life even if they are able to maintain their food intake.

"It is commonly thought that weight loss accelerates the progression of the cancer and shortens survival."

Professor Carl Walterbaugh, who led the study, said alcohol also depressed immune activity - particularly that of "killer t-cells".

These are the body's first line of defence against tumour cells.

Wasting energy

He said that over-consumption of alcohol encouraged the body to use up fat as an energy source, causing the wasting.

Once there is no more fat, he said, the body then derives most of its energy from the alcohol - depressing the immune system.

A spokesman for Cancer Research UK said that little was known about the influence of alcohol consumption on cancer prognosis.

He said: "Obviously there is a level of alcohol consumption which people are recommended not to exceed - we'd advise people to keep to that."

See also:

17 May 02 | Health
Alcohol may prevent diabetes
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