What Should Clinicians Tell Patients About Wine and Melanoma?

Dr Cho said the risks and the benefits of alcohol consumption have to be considered individually, including the risk related to skin cancer. “The finding is something we didn’t expect and for which we don’t have any good explanations. So, I would recommend people limiting alcoholic beverages overall, not just wine or white wine, to prevent melanoma,” explained Cho.

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At this time, the clinical and biological significance of the study findings remain to be determined. For individuals with other significant risk factors for melanoma, however, counseling regarding alcohol use may be an appropriate risk-reduction strategy to reduce risks of melanoma, in addition to other cancers: approximately 3.6% of cancer cases worldwide have been attributed to alcohol, most commonly cancers of the digestive tract, liver, pancreas, colon, rectum, and breast.

In this study, the association between alcohol and melanoma was strongest for parts of the body that typically receive less sun exposure. Dr Cho said that compared with nondrinkers, those who consumed 20 grams or more of alcohol per day were 2% more likely to be diagnosed with melanomas of the head, neck, or extremities. These participants were, however, 73% more likely to be diagnosed with melanomas of the trunk. This finding was novel, though further research is required to explain it.

Research has shown that some wine has somewhat higher levels of pre-existing acetaldehyde than beer or spirits. While red and white wine may have similar amounts of pre-existing acetaldehyde, the antioxidants in red wine may mitigate its effects.

Douglas Johnson, MD, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of hematology/oncology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, said the study’s strengths include a large sample size and inclusion of many variables that could contribute to melanoma. But only a correlative relationship, and not a causal relationship, was found.

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“The study is interesting and should generate more research in that an effect was observed specifically for white wine and specifically for melanomas on intermittently sun exposed skin. This could suggest very specific effects of the components of white wine on melanocytes and suggest alternative pathways to melanomagenesis,” Dr Johnson told Cancer Therapy Advisor.

More research is needed, however, before any conclusion can be drawn.


  1. Rivera A, Nan H, Li T, Qureshi A, Cho E. Alcohol intake and risk of incident melanoma: a pooled analysis of three prospective studies in the United States. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2016;25(12):1550-8. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-16-0303