Many people do not associate a high alcohol intake with an elevated risk of cancer. The truth is alcohol can increase your risk of several types, including melanoma.

When you consume alcohol, your body breaks it down into an intermediary substance called acetaldehyde. This compound is actually more harmful than alcohol itself, and your body attempts to excrete it as quickly as possible. It turns out that acetaldehyde makes your skin cells more sensitive to the sun's ultraviolet rays, and increases the chances your skin cells will be harmed if they are exposed to too much sun.

Researchers pooled together the results from 16 different studies and found that moderate drinking (more than one drink per day for women and more than two drinks per day for men) raises the risk of melanoma by 20 percent. Heavy drinking (more than 2 drinks for women and more than four drinks for men each day) increases the risk of melanoma by up to 55 percent.

Drinking alcohol may also make you more susceptible to sunburn, because it lowers your skin's defences against ultraviolet radiation. Dr Eva Negri is one of the authors of the study, and made the following comment: "We know that in the presence of UV radiation, drinking alcohol can alter the body’s immunocompetence; the ability to produce a normal immune response. This can lead to far greater cellular damage and subsequently cause skin cancers to form. This study aimed to quantify the extent to which the melanoma risk is increased with alcohol intake, and we hope that armed with this knowledge people can better protect themselves in the sun."

Reference:

British Journal of Dermatology: Alcohol drinking and cutaneous melanoma risk – A systematic review and dose-risk meta-analysis

British Association of Dermatologists

NHS Choices January 29, 2014