The festive season is upon us, meaning many of us will be indulging in a drink or two at office parties or family gatherings. But a new study suggests it might be worth steering clear of white wine; it could raise the risk of melanoma.

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Researchers found white wine could be independently linked to greater risk of melanoma.

Eunyoung Cho, an associate professor of dermatology and epidemiology at Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School in Providence, RI, and colleagues recently published their findings in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

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.

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.

Fast facts about 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.

Learn more about melanoma

As part of the studies, participants were required to complete food frequency questionnaires, which detailed their alcohol intake, including what alcoholic beverages they consumed and how much.

One standard drink was defined as 12.8 grams of alcohol, and study participants were followed-up for a mean of 18.3 years.

When looking at overall alcohol intake, the team found that each alcoholic beverage consumed daily was associated with a 14 percent greater risk of melanoma.

However, when the researchers broke down the results by alcohol type, they found that it was only white wine that could be independently associated with melanoma; each daily glass of white wine was linked to a 13 percent greater risk of melanoma.

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.

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.

Individuals who already have a greater risk of melanoma should be particularly cautious, the authors note.

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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