A number of cancers have already been associated with alcohol consumption. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), head and neck cancer, esophageal cancer, liver cancer, and breast cancer were previously linked to alcohol. The more a person drinks, the higher their risk for developing one of these cancers. The NCI estimates that about 3.5 of all cancer deaths in the United States are alcohol-related.
Melanoma, one of the least common but deadliest forms of skin cancer, was not previously linked to alcohol consumption. The current study, which was published in December 2016, looked at data on over 210,000 people to determine if there was a link. At first, the researchers determined that generally, alcohol might play a role in melanoma. When they broke the results down into type of alcohol, they found that white wine alone contributed to a higher risk of developing melanoma. A daily glass of white wine increased the risk of melanoma by 13 percent.
Melanoma can develop anywhere on the body, but when it is a result of sun exposure, it usually occurs in places that have been most exposed to the sun, such as the face or extremities. When melanoma was linked to white wine consumption, however, the melanoma was more likely to appear on areas of the body not exposed to the sun, such as the trunk.
One question that couldn’t be answered by the study is: “Why white wine?” Eunyoung Cho, ScD, the lead author of the study, speculates that some wine contains higher levels of acetaldehyde — which can cause DNA damage — than beer or spirits. Red wine, which can also have higher levels of acetaldehyde, has certain antioxidants that might offset the risks.
Cho believes the findings of this research are strong enough to add melanoma to the list of cancers associated with alcohol use. For those with other risk factors for melanoma, doctors might want to discuss decreasing alcohol consumption, especially white wine, in an effort to lower their risk of developing melanoma. He does point out that moderate alcohol consumption is also connected to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. It would be beneficial to discuss both the benefits and risks of alcohol consumption with your doctor.
Due to limitations of the study, non-white participants were not included, and the results cannot be generalized as to whether white wine increases melanoma risk on other racial and ethnic groups.
For more information on the risks of developing melanoma: Why Some People Are More at Risk of Melanoma Can Drinking Orange Juice Increase Your Risk of Melanoma? Why Redheads Are at Greater Risk for Melanoma Organ Transplants Raise Melanoma Risk
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of Idiot's Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot's Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love and Essential Guide to Asperger's Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.