Alcohol, the 'Asian Flush' and the Risk of Cancer

Many East Asians get a red face when they drink alcohol. This is the result of a genetic deficiency that also increases the risk of esophageal cancer.

This effect, called facial flushing, is a common reaction to alcohol among East Asians, affecting an estimated thirty-six percent of Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans. A new report published by the Public Library of Science warns of a link between this condition and an increased risk of cancer of the esophagus from drinking alcohol.

Researchers found that these drinkers develop a form of esophageal cancer six to ten times more often than those without the deficiency. Esophageal cancer is one of the deadliest cancers. It can be treated when found early, but once it grows the chances of survival drop sharply.

It is estimated that at least five hundred forty million people have the deficiency, about eight percent of the world. The more alcohol that people with this deficiency drink, the greater their risk.

AFCR recommends that doctors should ask their patients about their experiences with facial flushing after drinking alcohol. Those with a history of it should be advised to limit their alcohol use. They should also be warned that cigarette smoking works with the alcohol in a way that further increases the risk of esophageal cancer.