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expert reaction to study investigating aldehyde exposure and cancer risk

Publishing in Cell, researchers have looked at the effect of aldehyde exposure on DNA repair, reporting that aldehydes trigger degradation of a protein involved in the repair process.


Prof Sir Colin Berry, Emeritus Professor of Pathology, Queen Mary University London (QMUL), said:

“A nice piece of work, suggesting a mechanism of action for a class of compounds known to disturb DNA and affecting an established gene abnormality which affects the chance of getting some tumours. The critical point here is that the authors suggest a route by which environmental exposures may act on the genetic background to produce the effect.

“The point I would make is that your chance of getting cancer depends not only on your environmental exposures but also on the genes you have. We have perhaps overemphasised the role of the environment and not paid enough attention to our genetic susceptibility in thinking about cancer.  However, it is not possible to do a direct read-across from environmental exposure to risk from these data – realistic levels of exposure were used but I cannot tell what was the likely dose delivered where it matters.”


Prof Paul Pharoah, Professor of Cancer Epidemiology, University of Cambridge, said:

“A link between a common class of chemicals, aldehydes and a risk of cancer has been known for a long time.  For example, it is well know that a high alcohol intake is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.  However, this study tells us little about how important those risks are and it is rather misleading to suggest that shampoo for example is an important cause of cancer in humans.  What these researchers have done is to use biological models to show how specific chemicals called aldehydes might be capable of inducing cancer.  While this is important in helping us to understand the biology of cancer it has no immediate implications for the general public.”

* ‘A class of environmental and endogenous toxins induces BRCA2 haploinsufficiency and genome instability’ by Tan et al. was published in Cell  on Thursday 1st June.


Declared interests

Prof Sir Colin Berry:  Sir Colin consults for a number of agrochemical and pharmaceutical companies and for the MHRA. He is advises the European Risk Forum.

Prof Paul Pharoah: No conflicts of interest to declare.

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