Exposure to the sun can increase the risk of skin cancer. Alcohol consumption also can increase the risk of cancer. What happens when you combine the two? A greater risk of skin cancer than doing one or the other. Maybe.
Scientists are often accused of being buzzkills or of talking out of both sides of their mouths.
- A glass of red wine a day is good for your heart.
- Any amount of alcohol increases your risk of cancer.
- Sun is good for you because it provides needed vitamin D.
- Exposure to the sun damages the skin so always wear sunscreen and cover-up.
Until now, researchers weren’t sure if drinking led to more skin cancer because drinkers neglect to put on sunscreen and stay out in the sun longer because they’re oblivious to the damage being done or if the alcohol affects the skin in some way that makes it more susceptible.
Now researchers in Germany say that both are true. Yes, drinkers do take less good care of themselves, but the small study found that alcohol use does make the skin tan more quickly, and so burn more quickly and so develop skin cancer more quickly. The reason may be that alcohol decreases the beta carotenes in our skin or because alcohol causes DNA damage.
Some media are leaving it at that, but it’s misleading. Yes, being cautious about spending time in the sun and drinking is probably a good idea – moderation in all things – but there’s no reason to panic. The study was small. Very small. It involved only six male German volunteers. That is not a large enough sample to conclude anything.
As is too typical, women were not included in the study at all, though women alcoholics are more likely to die because of it than men.
Until 1993, the Food and Drug Administration did not allow women to be included in clinical drug trials, and they still lag. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) explains it is important for women to be included because drugs can affect them differently. For example, “Substance use in women tends to develop into addiction more quickly than in men.”
If you have an alcohol use disorder or have completed alcohol rehab, of course, you should abstain from alcohol, whether you go out in the sun or not. If you are in recovery from another substance use disorder, you should abstain from alcohol, too.
Still, alcohol use can increase the risk of cancer, and it may increase the risk of sunburn, so be cautious. Alcohol can be one of the most dangerous drugs. Don’t live like a teetotal vampire, but be cautious and moderate this summer.