Dying for a drink? Regular alcohol raises the risk of skin cancer by 55 per cent, claims study

June 1, 2014 10:31 am 0 comments Views: 302

  • Compound in drink can lead to greater chance of tumours
  • Other factors include less care taken when drinking in sunshine
  • Brits must take care when drinking and sunbathing, urges expert


Regular drinking could increase by up to half the risk of developing melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer which affects many young people.

Those who had less than one drink a day had a 10 per cent increased risk of melanoma compared with non-drinkers or those who only drink occasionally, experts found.

Moderate drinkers, who consumed two drinks a day, had an 18 per cent higher chance of melanoma.

Summer swiggers: Drinking can lead to an increased risk of skin cancer, according to nerw research. File picture

Summer swiggers: Drinking can lead to an increased risk of skin cancer, according to nerw research. File picture

Heavy drinkers – consuming at least four drinks a day – were at 55 per cent extra risk, according to estimates by an international team of researchers.

One drink was defined as 12.5grams of alcohol, which is the equivalent of 1.56 units, a glass of wine or half a pint of strong beer.

The extra cancer risk may be the result of alcohol making people more reckless about protecting themselves against the sun.

But the scientists say alcohol causes biological changes that makes skin more sensitive to light and may aggravate the impact of exposure to ultraviolet light.

Exactly how alcohol consumption increases chances of developing melanoma is not fully understood, but the researchers believe that the way that ethanol is converted into a chemical compound called acetaldehyde soon after it is drunk could play role.

It is thought that acetaldehyde may act as a ‘photosensitiser’  – making skin more sensitive to light – which in turn generates molecules called ‘reactive oxygen species’ that damage cells (known as ‘oxidative stress’) in a way that can cause skin cancers.

Lobster: Alcohol drinking increases the severity of sunburn, which is one of the major risk factors for melanoma

Lobster: Alcohol drinking increases the severity of sunburn, which is one of the major risk factors for melanoma


Skin cancer is the UK’s most common cancer, and melanoma is the most dangerous type.

There are approximately 13,000 new cases of melanoma per year in the UK (2010).

Melanoma is the 5th most common cancer in the UK (2010).

Melanoma is most common in the South East of England and Scotland.

Incidence of melanoma increases with age, however skin cancers are becoming increasingly common in young people.

Incidence rates in general have been increasing in the UK, partly due to changing habits in the sun, and an increase in foreign travel with the availability of budget flights to sunny destinations.


Brits mus cover up if enjoying a drink in the sun to reduce the risk of melanoma, said an expert

Brits mus cover up if enjoying a drink in the sun to reduce the risk of melanoma, said an expert

Dr Eva Negri, one of the authors of the study, 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 response.

‘This can lead to far greater cellular damage and subsequently cause skin cancers to form. This study aimed to quantify the extent to which the melanoma risk is increased with alcohol intake, and we hope that armed with this knowledge people can better protect themselves in the sun.’

The authors do, however, add a note of caution to interpreting the results, as it is not possible to quantify the impact of UV in isolation on each individual and retrospectively adjust the results accordingly if this wasn’t factored into the original study.

Professor Chris Bunker, President of the British Association of Dermatologists said: ‘Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK and melanoma is its deadliest form, any research into this area is very welcome.

‘Brits haven’t always been known for their moderation when it comes to either alcohol or the sun, but this research is important as it provides people with further information to make informed choices about their health.

‘We would always urge people to be careful in the sun and try to enjoy it responsibly. It is not uncommon to have a few drinks whilst on holiday or at a barbeque, we would just encourage people to be careful and make sure they are protecting their skin, this research provides an extra incentive to do so.

‘Many of us have seen holiday makers who have been caught unawares the day before, fuzzy-headed and lobster red – an unwelcome combination.’

The researchers, whose findings are published in the British Journal of Dermatology, reviewed 16 studies involving more than 6,200 patients with melanoma


Get More Right To Your Inbox!