Background: To deliver efficacious personalised cancer treatment, it is essential to characterise the cellular metabolism as well as the genetic stability of individual tumours. In this study, we describe a new axis between DNA repair and detoxification of aldehyde derivatives with important implications for patient prognosis and treatment. Methods: Western blot and qPCR analyses were performed in relevant non-transformed and cancer cell lines from lung and liver tissue origin in combination with bioinformatics data mining of The Cancer Genome Atlas database from lung and hepatocellular cancer patients. Results: Using both biochemical and bioinformatics approaches, we revealed an association between the levels of expression of the aldehyde detoxifying enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2) and the key DNA base excision repair protein XRCC1. Across cancer types, we found that if one of the corresponding genes exhibits a low expression level, the level of the other gene is increased. Surprisingly, we found that low ALDH2 expression levels associated with high XRCC1 expression levels are indicative for a poor overall survival, particularly in lung and liver cancer patients. In addition, we found that Mithramycin A, a XRCC1 expression inhibitor, efficiently kills cancer cells expressing low levels of ALDH2. Conclusions: Our data suggest that lung and liver cancers require efficient single-strand break repair for their growth in order to benefit from a low aldehyde detoxification metabolism. We also propose that the ratio of XRCC1 and ALDH2 levels may serve as a useful prognostic tool in these cancer types.