Alcohol Ups Skin Cancer Risk

Alcohol Ups Skin Cancer Risk

Around 13,000 new cases of skin cancer occur every year. The likelihood of developing skin cancer increases with age but worryingly cases in younger people have increased. Could this be a side effect of Britain’s booze culture?

Research published in the British Journal of Dermatology believes alcohol is certainly a huge contributory factor to the development of melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer. The study consisted of a meta-analysis (results from previous studies) of 16 studies from various countries: France, Italy, Iran, USA and Sweden, with a combined total of 6,251 melanoma cancer cases.

The study investigated the effect of moderate to high alcohol consumption (more than one 175ml drink a day). They found moderate drinking increased the risk of melanoma by 20% and although there was little research on heavy drinking, researchers believed the risk was proportional to the consumption, therefore there is a 55% greater risk for heavy drinkers.

How does alcohol lead to cancer?

Though it is not 100% known how alcohol leads to cancer there are many possibilities:

– Ethanol is converted to acetaldehyde in our bodies and causes damage to DNA
– Alcohol increases oestrogen levels potentially leading to breast cancer
– Alcohol can cause liver cirrhosis which increases the risk of liver cancer
– Alcohol decreases the vitamin folate which helps produce new DNA cells
– Alcohol contains highly reactive molecules ‘reactive oxygen species’ which damage DNA
– Alcohol causes mouth, throat and oesophagus tissue to be more receptive to tobacco (avoid drinking and smoking in combination)

We all know sunburn can lead to skin cancer but studies have also highlighted that alcohol increases the severity of sunburn. One of the study authors Dr Eva Negri said “we know that in the presence of UV radiation, drinking alcohol can alter the body’s immunocompetence, the ability to produce a normal immune system response. This can lead to far greater cellular damage and subsequently cause cancers to form.”

Professor Chris Bunker, President of the British Association of Dermatologists said “Brits haven’t always been known for their moderation when it comes to alcohol or the sun…many of us have seen holiday makers…fuzzy-headed and lobster red-an unwelcome combination”.

Around 3.6% of all cancers are related to excess alcohol consumption worldwide. The message is clear; drink sensibly and protect your skin in the sun.

Know your limits

Alcohol limits:

Women=2-3 units a day Men=3-4 units a day

How much is a unit?

Strength (ABV) x Volume (ml) ÷ 1000 = units