Uh Oh: Your White Wine Habit Is Putting You at Risk for This Scary Type of Cancer

We love white wine just as much as you do, but cutting back could reduce your risk for this deadly type of cancer.

Christopher-Hall/Shutterstock, Krzysztof Winnik/ShutterstockWe all know how relaxing it is to kick back and relax with a tall glass of wine at the end of a long day. But did you know that this habit could be putting you at risk for one of the deadliest forms of cancer out there?

Alcohol has been associated with many types of cancer in the past. About 3.6 percent of cancer cases worldwide have been determined to be caused by alcohol consumption. This is due to a carcinogen found in alcohol called acetaldehyde, which damages DNA and prevents it from repairing itself.

However, a recent study done by researchers at Brown University published in the medical journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention found a distinct connection between white wine in particular and melanoma—the deadliest type of skin cancer.

Most people know melanoma to be caused by sun exposure, but surprisingly, this study found that subjects developed melanoma primarily on the trunks of their bodies—a part that is usually covered by clothing and not exposed to the sun.

Dr. Eunyoung Cho, a co-author of this study, believes that the DNA damage aspect of the carcinogen is more related to the kind of disease found in this study. “Based on these findings, I might guess that this type of cancer is less related to sun exposure and more related to a biological mechanism of alcohol damaging DNA or preventing DNA repair,” she said.

There has been very little research done on the link between alcohol and skin cancer in the past, so Dr. Cho and her colleagues set out to assess the situation. They collected data from three past inconclusive studies that involved over 200,000 participants total. All subjects provided health information such as their medical history, environment, and typical drinking habits. After 18 years, researchers followed up with them and found 1,374 people were diagnosed with invasive melanoma. This is less than 1 percent of all participants, but within that 1 percent, researchers found some surprising trends.

Each drink that a participant had per day (i.e. one beer, a glass of wine, a shot of hard liquor, or about 12.8 grams of pure alcohol) was associated with a 14 percent higher risk of contracting melanoma. However, each glass of white wine in particular was associated with an additional 13 percent higher risk of melanoma. Other individual drinks did not produce this kind of trend.

Cho said that there has been previous research to suggest wine has a higher acetaldehyde content than other alcoholic drinks, and since red wine has more antioxidants than white wine, that may offset some of the carcinogen’s effects.
Still, Cho emphasized the proven relationship between alcohol consumption and cancer, and the need for further research on its link to skin cancer in particular. “For now, I would say that alcohol in general is related, and I would emphasize that white wine is particularly related.”
It is important to note the many limiting factors to this study, including the fact that it was only conducted on white people, it did not take into consideration their sunscreen use habits, and it was purely observational, which means it could not provide a conclusive correlation—just a suggestive relationship. It is also worth noting that melanoma is almost always curable if the cancer is caught early.
However, the American Cancer Society has had recommendations for at-risk people to limit their alcohol consumption in place for years.

“There are many risk factors for melanoma that you cannot change, like family history, hair color, and susceptibility to sunburn,” Cho said. “But drinking alcohol is something you can change, so it’s actually good to know that alcohol is related to melanoma as well as other cancers.”

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