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Link Found Between Alcohol Consumption and Risk of Skin Cancer

Posted in Research

While it’s fine to enjoy a day basking in the sun, it can be dangerous to drink alcohol at the same time. And according to some scientists, if you drink in-between sunbathing days you may still need to lather on sunblock.

A recent review of 16 British studies involving 6,000 patients with melanoma has yielded some interesting results. The study says that drinking could equal a 55 percent increase in a person’s risk of getting skin cancer – especially melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Even just a drink a day (or less) can translate into a 10 percent risk increase. Those who indulge in two or more drinks each day could face an 18 percent greater chance of skin cancer.

People who have four drinks per day are considered heavy drinkers. Heavy drinkers have a 55 percent higher risk of the disease.

Drinking alcohol could raise skin cancer risks simply because drinking makes a person less attentive to sun exposure. Most everyone has seen a person with a few too many drinks drift off to sleep in the sun.

Some scientists think drinking produces chemical changes which make skin sensitive to ultraviolet light. It’s thought that the problem may be related to the way the body converts ethanol into acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde could be the agent responsible for increased sensitivity to light, with the chemical conversion from ethanol to acetaldehyde starting very quickly once alcohol is consumed.

When that conversion takes place, reactive oxygen molecules form. It’s these molecules that actually damage skin cells and raise cancer risks. Thus, when a person drinks they become more vulnerable to sunburn and the oxidative stress from sunburn can lead to melanoma.

The biology of alcohol and ultraviolet light may be a bit hard to understand (and controversial), but the fact remains that drinking alcohol out in the sun can inhibit the body’s natural immune response. Whatever the cause of damaged cells, drinking alcohol impairs the body’s normal self-protective response to those cells.

The researchers behind the study hope that sun lovers will be careful if they also happen to be drinkers. It’s always best to wear sun protection, but for people who drink taking necessary precautions like a wide-brimmed hat, sunscreen and limited exposure could be critical.