We enjoy a refreshing glass of pinot grigio as much as anyone, so it was startling to see a report this week suggesting that white wine could boost the risk of invasive melanoma. Actually, all alcohol has some association with melanoma as well as some cancers of the digestive tract, liver, pancreas, colon, rectum, and breast.
But this new report in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, found that when it comes to melanoma, the white wine link may be strongest, though the reasons why aren't clear. The report used data from three prospective cohort studies in which 210,252 participants were followed for an average of 18.3 years, using questionnaires. A standard drink was defined as 12.8 grams of alcohol -- which translates to a 5 ounce glass of wine, a 12-ounce beer or a 1.5-ounce shot of spirits.

We asked study author Eunyoung Cho, ScD, an associate professor of dermatology and epidemiology at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University in Providence, R.I., to break down the findings for us:

Your study found an association between drinking white wine and developing invasive melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. How strong is the association?
Each drink per day of white wine was associated with a 13 percent increased risk of melanoma. Other alcoholic beverages including beer and red wine were also positively associated with melanoma but the association was more modest and not statistically significant.  

Why did you decide to study the impact of alcohol consumption on skin cancer risk?
Alcohol consumption has been associated with so many cancer sites in hundreds of epidemiological studies. However, there have been few studies evaluating alcohol consumption and skin cancer.

We're guessing white wine consumption is higher in warm weather, and so is sun exposure. Could that be the connection?
Probably not. We had good amount of information on sunlight exposure and were able to adjust for the information. The positive association was still found after we adjust for risk factors of melanoma including sunlight exposure. However, we do not have a good explanation why white wine intake was particularly associated with melanoma.

Your study was limited to white men and women. Any reason for people of color to be concerned?
Melanoma is more common in white than other racial groups. There is no known reason why the association between alcohol consumption and melanoma would differ by race.

What's the next step in this research?
We would like to explore why the association appeared stronger with white wine. We would also like to explore why melanomas of less sun exposed body sites were more strongly associated with alcohol consumption that those with higher sun exposure.

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