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Heavy drinking 'raises skin cancer risk' by nearly 20%

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People who regularly drink alcohol increase their risk of skin cancer by around a fifth, research suggests.

Experts found that drinkers have about a 20% increased chance of melanoma compared to non-drinkers or those who only drink occasionally.

The study, published in the British Journal of Dermatology, included analysis of 16 worldwide studies involving more than 6,200 patients with melanoma.

Light drinkers, defined as people who drank less than one drink a day (with one drink defined as 12.5g alcohol), had a 10% increased risk of skin cancer, rising to 18% for moderate to heavy drinkers.

In the UK, 12.5g of alcohol is the equivalent of 1.56 units. It is often defined as the amount in one drink by researchers.

The experts, including from the University of Milan-Bicocca, the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, said previous research had already linked drinking with a higher chance of people getting sunburnt.

Alcohol 'raises skin cancer risk'

They said: “In Western societies, consumption of alcoholic beverages during outdoor leisure activities such as barbecuing and sunbathing is common.

“Other research has shown that people who consumed alcohol during time spent at the beach had more severe sunburns compared to non-drinkers.

“Moreover, a cross-sectional survey investigating the relation between alcohol drinking and sunburns prevalence found that about 18% of all sunburn cases among American adults were imputable to alcohol drinking.”

But the researchers also said that the possible effect of alcohol alone on skin cancer is unclear.

However, in the presence of UV radiation, alcohol can “substantially enhance cellular damage and subsequently lead to formation of skin cancers”, they said.

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.”

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.

Professor Chris Bunker

Professor Chris Bunker

“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 barbecue, we would just encourage people to be careful and make sure they are protecting their skin.

“Many of us have seen holidaymakers who have been caught unawares the day before, fuzzy-headed and lobster red - an unwelcome combination.”


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