Could White Wine Increase Your Melanoma Risk?

Study reports that alcohol, particularly white wine, consumption may be associated with higher risk for melanoma.

A new study suggests that alcohol, especially white wine, could be associated with a higher risk for melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.

The study published in the December issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, adds melanoma to a list of cancer types that have been associated with alcohol that includes liver cancer, pancreatic cancer, colorectal cancer, and breast cancer.

The study also gives people another factor to consider when weighing the risks of alcohol consumption with known benefits, such as the reduced risk of cardiovascular disease that has been connected with moderate alcohol intake.

In the study, lead author Eunyoung Cho, ScD, an associate professor of dermatology and epidemiology at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, said overall alcohol intake was associated with a 14 percent higher risk of melanoma per drink per day.

When Dr. Cho and colleagues evaluated the results according to type of alcohol – white wine, red wine, beer, or liquor, white wine was the most strongly associated, with a 13 percent increased risk of melanoma per drink per day. Other types of alcohol were not significantly associated with increased risk.

Dr. Cho said it was unclear why white wine bore the brunt of the association with melanoma. Research has shown that some wine has somewhat higher levels of pre-existing acetaldehyde – a known carcinogen – than beer or spirits. Red and white wine have similar amounts of pre-existing acetaldehyde, but it is possible that the antioxidants in red wine may offset the risks, she said.

It’s important to note that this study excluded non-whites, as there were too few non-white participants in the study population to draw statistically valid conclusions. Therefore, the study’s findings cannot be generalized for other racial or ethnic groups, Dr. Cho said.

Also, few study participants reported heavy drinking, and the study did not account for some potential risk factors of melanoma, such as sun-protection behaviors. Participants were excluded if they reported a personal history of cancer at baseline of the follow-up in order to avoid bias due to closer physician follow-up of cancer patients.

Melanoma is the sixth most common cancer, with about 76,380 new cases expected in 2016, according to statistics from the National Cancer Institute. Incidence rates have increased over the past few decades. Fortunately, survival statistics have also increased, with a current five-year survival rate of 91.5 percent.

In recent years, the AACR has published several studies focusing on the prevention of melanoma. In 2014, a study published in CEBP showed that childhood sunburns appeared to increase melanoma risk more than sunburns in adulthood.

And a study presented at the 2016 AACR Annual Meeting in New Orleans offered evidence that sunscreen could prevent melanoma. While it’s well known that sunscreen prevents sunburn, it’s been impossible to prove whether it protects against melanoma as well, since sunscreen is manufactured as a cosmetic and undergoes different testing protocols.

More and more treatment options are available for patients diagnosed with melanoma, including targeted therapies and immunotherapeutics.