For the past 30 years, melanoma has been on the rise across Canada.
Melanoma is a form of skin cancer, and although it is less common than other skin cancers, it is more serious. Melanoma typically appears as brown or black spots on the skin; in some cases, it can appear as pink, tan or even white discolorations. This skin cancer can form anywhere on the skin, but is most commonly found on the chest and back in men and on the legs in women.
The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 76,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma every year and roughly 10,000 people die annually from this form of skin cancer.
Generally, the risk of developing melanoma increases with age, with the average age of those diagnosed with the cancer being roughly 63.
UV rays and sun exposure are often blamed for the development of the skin cancer, and while being sun smart is incredibly important and something I regularly advise, there are other risk factors that can lead to the cancer that people should be aware of.
Having a history of melanoma in one’s family makes one a high-risk candidate for the cancer. Similarly, anyone who has a lot of irregular or large moles has been shown to have an increased risk. Those who have fair skin, freckling and light hair should be aware that they are also at a higher risk for melanoma.
Outside of genetic predisposition, new research published by the American Association for Cancer Research indicates that there also may be a correlation between alcohol consumption and the development of this skin cancer.
Eunyoung Cho, ScD, an Associate Professor of Dermatology and Epidemiology at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, recently published the study, Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, which suggests that alcohol intake is linked with an increased risk for melanoma.
The study used data taken from 210,252 participants who were followed for an average of 18.3 years; the study used food-frequency questionnaires to measure alcohol consumption and frequency.
In a powerful takeaway from the research, Cho and her colleagues concluded that alcohol intake was linked to a 14 per cent increase in melanoma risk per drink, per day, with the association between alcohol and melanoma being the greatest for parts of the body that normally get less sun exposure.
Those who consumed 20 or more grams of alcohol a day were two per cent more likely to develop melanoma on their head, neck, arms or legs, but 73 per cent more likely to develop melanoma on their back or stomach.
The research also concluded that the largest risk for melanoma came from consumption of white wine, with each drink per day of white wine associated with a 13 per cent increased risk.
Eunyoung Cho’s study is only the most recent research that supports the fact that alcohol is a carcinogen. Outside of skin health and melanoma risk, alcohol has been considered a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) for many years, and in 2014 a World Cancer Report found that alcohol accounts for 3.5 per cent of cancers around the world.
Now, the point of this article is not to urge readers to stop drinking alcohol entirely. But rather, to urge moderation when it comes to drinking alcohol, and as always, to emphasize skin health by staying sun smart, living a healthy, active lifestyle, getting regular skin exams by a Board Certified Dermatologist and regularly examining one’s skin for irregularities.