Study: Does White Wine Cause Skin Cancer?

Reaching for a glass of something at the holiday office party or family get-together this season? A new study suggests that you may want to opt out of the Chardonnays or Rieslings.

Researchers at Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School have found a correlation between white wine consumption and the risk of developing melanoma, a serious and sometimes deadly form of skin cancer. Study participants who regularly drank a glass of white wine had a 13% increased chance of melanoma, though the findings did not similarly apply to red wine, beer, or liquor.

The possible cause behind the correlation remains something of a mystery, though the researchers suggested it may be due to the presence of acetaldehyde, a cancer-causing compound. Even so, acetaldehyde can be found in all types of wine, not just whites.

Though the possible heart health benefits of red wine consumption are generally accepted in the medical research community, alcohol is still listed as a possible carcinogenic by the American Cancer Society, particularly in connection with head and neck cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer, and esophageal cancer. Excessive alcohol consumption is also associated with a host of other potential health problems and is regarded as the number-one drug problem in the United States.

Dr. Eunyoung Cho, an associate professor of dermatology and epidemiology who led the study, said that though their findings appear significant, more research is still needed to understand why white wine in particular might be a melanoma culprit. Skin cancer rates are on the rise in the U.S. overall, tripling in numbers since 1975 largely because of the popularity of tanning salons and the depletion of the atmosphere’s protective ozone layer against ultraviolet (UV) rays.

“Before you panic, let’s revisit the actual amount of risk here,” writes Steven Salzberg for Forbes. “The 13% increase in risk does not mean that you have a 13% chance of getting melanoma from drinking white wine.” Rather, the numbers suggest that drinkers have only about a 0.61% chance of developing melanoma, a rate that’s still higher than non-drinkers in the study.

“I’m still a bit skeptical, because we have no good explanation for why white wine — but not red wine, beer or other alcohol — would cause skin cancer,” Salzberg says. “But still, when you reach for a glass of wine this holiday season, perhaps you should choose red instead of white.”

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