Exploring with ethanol

Oral cancer – exploring the possible link with ethanol

When the body is exposed to ethanol it is metabolised, and the compound acetaldehyde is produced.1 Acetaldehyde has been identified as a carcinogen, and occurs naturally in many foods.2

In general terms, the level of carcinogenic risk for any carcinogen is dependent on level of exposure in terms of quantity to which the subject is exposed and the duration of exposure.

Exposure to acetaldehyde from dietary sources and mouth rinses: men3,4

Exposure to acetaldehyde from dietary sources and mouth rinses: women3,4

From the above graphs, two rinses of an alcohol-containing mouth rinse expose an individual to minimal acetaldehyde compared to commonly consumed foodstuffs.3,4

The exposure of an individual to acetaldehyde is also affected by lifestyle factors such as consuming alcoholic drinks5,6 and smoking,7 both of which may increase exposure.


  1. National Institute On Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism. Available at: [Accessed 21/1/2010].
  2. Miyake T, Shibamoto T. Quantitative analysis of acetaldehyde in foods and beverages. J Agric Food Chem 1993; 41(11): 1968–1970.
  3. Uebelacker M & Lachenmeier DW. Quantitative determination of acetaldehyde in foods using automated digestion with simulated gastric fluid followed by headspace gas chromatography. J Autom Methods Manag Chem 2011; 2011: 907317.
  4. Lachenmeier DW et al. Salivary acetaldehyde increase due to alcohol-containing mouthwash use: A risk factor for oral cancer. Int J Cancer 2009; 125: 730–735.
  5. Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung. Gesundheitliche Bewertung von Acetaldeyd in alkoholischen Getränken. Aktualisierte Stellungnahme Nr. 022/2010 des BfRvom 04. May 2010.
  6. European Food Safety Authority. Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources added to Food (ANS). EFSA Journal 2010; 8(3): 1512[36 pp.].
  7. Salaspuro M. Interrelationship between alcohol, smoking, acetaldehyde and cancer. Novartis Found Symp 2007; 285: 80–89.