Can Drinking Alcohol Increase Your Chances of Getting Skin Cancer?
Last updated: March 2022
I read an article today about how drinking alcohol is the cause of several types of cancer. The article mentioned that alcohol consumption is linked to cancers of the breast, bowel, liver, throat, and mouth. Those who drink regularly are at greater risk of those types of cancers.
Does drinking alcohol increase the likelihood of having skin cancer?
I didn’t see skin cancer mentioned in the article, though, and I wondered if alcohol consumption also has an effect on the odds of getting skin cancer. I did a brief search on this topic, and I found several articles stating that drinking alcohol may increase the odds of getting skin cancer.
Does drinking increase your risk of sunburn?
A small study in Germany revealed that not only did drinking alcohol prior to sun exposure increase the risk of getting a sunburn, but it also increased the severity of the sunburn.1 The article referencing the study in Germany said that drinkers had lower levels of carotenoids, which are antioxidants that protect against UV exposure, which in turn increased their chances of sunburn and/or skin cancer.
Less alcohol might reduce non-melanoma skin cancers
Another article, this one by Dr. Eunyoung Cho of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island and Harvard Medical School, states that reducing alcohol consumption could be a way to reduce skin cancer worldwide. That study’s findings reported that every 10-gram increase in alcohol consumed by a person in a day is associated with a greater risk of basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.2 (As a reference, the average drink in the U.S. is 14 grams, which is one 12-ounce beer or a 5-ounce serving of wine.)
The link between white wine and skin cancer
I then found an article on the Skin Cancer Foundation’s site about the correlation between drinking white wine and an increased risk for melanoma. It discussed an association between alcohol consumption (white wine, in particular) and a modest increase in the risk of invasive melanoma.3 The research found that drinking a glass of white wine each day resulted in a 13% increased risk, while those who drank 50 grams or more a day of white wine had a 50% higher risk. What I found interesting in this study was the suggestion that a cancer-causing compound, acetaldehyde, may be the reason. The compound, which is a byproduct of melanoma, is also found in alcohol, and wine has a higher amount of acetaldehyde than beer or other alcohol. The article on The Skin Cancer Foundation’s site then goes on to point out that while The National Cancer Institute cites an association between alcohol and several types of cancer, it does not currently list melanoma as one of those cancers.
There's also a counter opinion
I also found several articles refuting the correlation between drinking alcohol and increased skin cancer risk; one article said that drinking alcohol may cause people to be less careful about applying and reapplying sunscreen, which increased the chances of getting a sunburn, which increased the chances of skin cancer.
I didn't walk away satisfied
I didn’t finish my research feeling that I had gained a good idea of whether or not drinking alcohol actually causes skin cancer. But I do know this - overexposure to the sun or the use of tanning beds is the primary risk factor for skin cancer. If you are wanting to take additional steps to decrease your chances of getting skin cancer (in addition to practicing smart sun habits such as wearing sunscreen, finding shade during the hottest part of the day, and wearing sun-protective clothing), decreasing alcohol consumption, or cutting it out altogether, may be something to consider as yet another way to help prevent skin cancer.
Would you be willing to decrease your alcohol consumption if it meant a lesser chance of being diagnosed with skin cancer?
Do you sunscreen in the fall?