Drinking can increase your skin cancer risk by 20 per cent

It is unlikely to be the news you want to hear in the summer season, but dermatologists are warning that alcohol consumption can increase your skin cancer risk.

And while a small part of those figures can be attributed to riskier behaviour, such as forgetting to reapply sunscreen or indeed falling asleep in the sun, a chemical reaction is also to blame.

Australia has one of the highest rates of melanoma in the world, with around 16,000 people diagnosed annually and an estimated 1300 Australians dying from the disease each year.

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Dermatologist Dr Niyati Sharma said recent research suggested that alcohol consumption and the sun were proving to be a lethal combination.

“The research has shown us that while drinking in the sun may cause your skin to burn more easily, alcohol drinkers in general may be more prone to skin cancer,” she explained.

Dr Sharma said a German study that investigated the impact of alcohol and sun exposure showed consumption of liquor increased not just the risk of sunburn developing but also the severity.

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“Participants in the study each consumed three drinks before being exposed to UV light, with the tests showing their skin burned faster,” she said.

Dr Sharma explained that sunburn in the participants may have been accelerated by the consumption of alcohol, leading to lower levels of carotenoids, which may have made the skin more prone to the impact of the sun.

“The findings of this study are concerning because they do tell us that alcohol can increase the likelihood of sunburn. It is not simply a case of people failing to apply enough sunscreen when they’re drinking, rather the research shows a direct correlation between the ingestion of alcohol making our skin more vulnerable to the effects of the sun.”

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Dr Sharma said several other reports had confirmed a link between alcohol intake and the development of basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), the two most common types of skin cancer, as well as melanoma.

“One of the studies highlighted the risk of BCC increased by 7 per cent and SCC increased by 11 per cent for every standard beer or small glass of wine, or 10 grams of distilled spirits, drunk each day.

“The other study found a 20 per cent increase in melanoma for those who drank liquor compared to those who don’t drink alcohol or drank it on occasion, and an increased risk based on the amount of alcohol intake, with a 55 per cent increase in risk for those who drink 50 grams of alcohol (or five beers) per day,” she said.

Along with alcohol consumption, Dr Sharma said tattoos could also prove to be an additional risk for Australians this summer.

Latest data shows a quarter (25 per cent) of Australians have a tattoo and this makes it more challenging to identify any potentially dangerous skin lesions.

Have you ever had to have a skin cancer removed? Are you more sun smart now than when you were younger? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

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