Could Alcohol Increase the Risk of Skin Cancer?

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There is no doubt that alcohol can cause health problems; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has noted that long-term use of alcohol can cause high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, digestive problems, learning and memory problems, mental health problems, cancer in the mouth, breast, throat, esophagus, liver and colon, and more. One topic often debated is whether alcohol can increase the risk of skin cancer. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the answer is yes.

Researchers from the Chan School of Public Health in Boston and other institutions throughout the world conducted a systematic review of available literature looking at the relation between alcohol intake and risk of non-melanoma skin cancer. The results showed that for every 10 grams of alcohol consumed each day – equivalent to a small glass of wine – there is a 7% increase in the risk of developing basal cell carcinoma. Furthermore, there is an 11% increase in risk of squamous cell carcinoma. What are the faults in this study?

For one, it is strictly observational – results were found from a review of the literature and does not reflect direct experiences from participants in a current study. However, the literature reviewed does provide us with an opportunity to become more cautious of our alcohol intake and potential health concerns. What about melanoma skin cancer?

According to the American Association for Cancer Research, a study conducted by colleagues from the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island found that of 210,252 participants being analyzed for 18.3 years, alcohol intake was associated with a 14% higher risk of developing melanoma per drink, per day. The study found that each drink of white wine each day was associated with a 13% increased risk for melanoma cancer. Other forms of alcohol, such as beer, red wine, and liquor, didn’t significantly affect melanoma risk. How does this happen?

The American Cancer Society notes that the bacteria that lives in the colon and rectum can convert the ethanol in alcohol into excessive amounts of acetaldehyde, a chemical that damages DNA and prevents DNA repair. Some research has shown that wine has higher pre-existing acetaldehyde than other alcoholic beverages. From this, we know to be actively aware of how much alcohol we are consuming, and to seek medical attention and maintain routine check-ups to ensure that we optimize our overall health and well-being.

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