White Wine May Raise Melanoma Risk

Melanoma is a form of skin cancer that begins in melanocytes, which are cells in the top layer of skin.

While melanoma is significantly less common than other skin cancers – such as basal cell carcinoma – it is much more deadly. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 10,000 people in the United States will die from melanoma in 2016.

Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning beds and lamps is a primary risk factor for melanoma. Other risk factors include a family history of the disease, having fair skin, freckles, light hair, lots of moles, and having a weakened immune system.

Now, Cho and team suggest alcohol – particularly white wine – should be added to the list.

Daily glass of white wine could raise melanoma risk by 13 percent

Alcohol is a known risk factor for a number of cancers, including head and neck cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer, and esophageal cancer.

For their study, Cho and colleagues analyzed the data of three large studies – including a total of 210,252 adults – to see if there might be a link between alcohol intake and risk of melanoma.

  • This year, around 76,380 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed
  • Melanoma rates in the U.S. have been rising for the past 30 years
  • The skin cancer is 20 times more common in white people than black people.

According to the team, beer, red wine, and liquor had no significant impact on melanoma risk.

Another finding of interest was that melanomas on parts of the body that were less likely to be exposed to UV rays were more likely to be linked to alcohol intake.

For example, adults who consumed at least 20 grams of alcohol daily were at 73 percent greater risk of melanomas of the trunk, but they were only 2 percent more likely to develop melanomas of the head, neck, or extremities. Further research is warranted to identify the underlying mechanisms.

Findings support recommendations to limit alcohol intake

Cho says the team was surprised that only white wine could be independently associated with greater melanoma risk, and further research is required to pinpoint precisely why this might be.

However, she points to previous studies that have shown some wines have higher pre-existing levels of a chemical called acetaldehyde, which is known to damage DNA. In relation to red wine, she says the beverage contains a number of antioxidants that might counteract the harmful effects of acetaldehyde.

Overall, the researchers say their findings indicate melanoma should be included in the list of cancers related to alcohol consumption.

Additionally, the team says the results support guidelines from the American Cancer Society, which recommend limiting alcohol intake to a maximum of two drinks daily for men and one for women.

“The clinical and biological significance of these findings remains to be determined, but for motivated individuals with other strong risk factors for melanoma, counseling regarding alcohol use may be an appropriate risk-reduction strategy to reduce risks of melanoma as well as other cancers.”

Eunyoung Cho

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