Aldehyde Chemicals Activate BRCA2 Gene

A recent study by researchers at the University of Cambridge found that aldehydes, a chemical which occurs frequently in our households and communities (think: formaldehyde), increases the risk of cancer by interfering with a DNA repair mechanism in our bodies. This isn’t the first time researchers have linked a rising risk of cancer with aldehydes, but it’s especially important because scientist think they know what’s causing the risk. The increased risk is especially poignant among people with a faulty copy of the BRCA2 gene.

How Does It Happen

Aldehydes exist all around us, in the food we eat, the exhaust we smell, and even the clothes we wear. When our DNA is exposed to aldehydes, the natural process of repairing itself when damaged is prevented. When this happens among individuals with a damaged copy of the BRCA2 gene, scientists found their risk of cancer increased. Why? Without the ability to repair itself, the damaged BRCA2 gene may begin duplicating and develop cancerous cells.

Since around one in 100 people carry the BRCA2 gene and aldehydes exist all around us, scientists are concerned about the results of this study.

How Can You Protect Yourself

Whether you carry the BRCA2 gene or not, it’s a good idea to protect yourself from unnecessary exposure to aldehydes. While you’re unlikely to prevent all exposure — simply breathing car exhaust exposes us to aldehydes, after all — eating organic food, especially produce with a thin skin, can help, as well as buying clothes and furniture that don’t contain aldehydes. If you’re a smoker, now may be a good time to quit, and if you’re not, staying away from excess cigarette smoke is a good idea.

Ultimately, though, scientists will need to study the effect of aldehydes on our DNA before we can fully understand the potential for increased risk of cancer.

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