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White Wine May Increase Risk of Skin Cancer

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“A bottle of white, or perhaps a bottle of rose instead,” Billy Joel croons in his famous song “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.” However, you may want to skip that bottle of white according to a new study from researchers at Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School. The findings of the new study showed that alcohol intake was associated with higher rates of invasive melanoma among European men and women. Moreover, white wine had the most significant association, and the increased risk was more pronounced on parts of the body that receive less sun exposure.

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Roughly 3.6% of cancer cases worldwide have been attributed to alcohol—typically cancers of the digestive tract, liver, pancreas, colon, rectum, and breast. Previous research has suggested that alcohol can cause carcinogenesis as the ethanol in alcohol metabolizes into acetaldehyde, which damages DNA and prevents DNA repair.


        The Brown researchers looked to determine whether alcohol consumption increased melanoma risk. Using data from three large prospective cohort studies, in which 210,252 participants were followed for a mean of 18.3 years, the investigators employed food-frequency questionnaires to determine each participant’s alcohol consumption. A standard drink was defined as 12.8 grams of alcohol.


        The investigators found that total alcohol intake was associated with a 14% higher risk of melanoma per drink per day, with each drink per day of white wine being associated with a 13% increased risk of melanoma. Other forms of alcohol—beer, red wine, and liquor—did not significantly affect melanoma risk.


        “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,” remarked senior study investigator Eunyoung Cho, Sc.D., associate professor of dermatology and epidemiology at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. The findings from this study were reported in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

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  Interestingly, Dr. Cho and her colleagues found that the association between alcohol and melanoma was stronger in parts of the body that typically receive less sun exposure. Compared with nondrinkers, those who consumed 20 grams or more of alcohol per day were 2% more likely to be diagnosed with melanomas of the head, neck, or extremities. However, they were 73% more likely to be diagnosed with melanomas of the trunk. Dr. Cho commented that this finding was novel and further research would be required to explain the results.


"For drinkers, the risks and benefits of alcohol consumption have to be considered individually, including the risk related to skin cancer,” Dr. Cho added.


        The scientists were surprised that white wine was the only drink independently associated with an increased risk of melanoma. The reason for the association is unknown. However, previous research has shown that some wines have slightly higher levels of pre-existing acetaldehyde than beer or spirits. While red and white wine may have similar amounts of pre-existing acetaldehyde, the researchers hypothesized that the antioxidants in red wine might offset the risks.


    Dr. Cho and her colleagues are looking to continue their research into this phenomenon as they felt that the homogeneity of the study population was a chief limitation. Nonwhites were excluded, as there were too few nonwhite participants to draw statistically valid conclusions. Therefore, the study’s findings cannot be generalized to other racial or ethnic groups.

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