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Research Summary

Effect of Alcohol Consumption on Risk of Skin Cancers: A Report from the Women’s Health Initiative

Over the past 40 years there has been a rise in the incidence of skin cancer, particularly among women. The Women’s Health Initiative’s Observational Study collected data from more than 59,000 white, postmenopausal women relating alcohol consumption to the risk of malignant melanoma (MM) and non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC). Over approximately 10 years of follow-up, there were 532 cases of MM and 9593 cases of NMSC. The key reported findings were:

  • There was a higher hazard of MM and NMSC among women who consumed ≥7 drinks in a week, compared with abstainers.
  • Lifetime alcohol consumption was positively associated with hazard of MM and risk of NMSC, with a significant increase in risk for MM related to consumption of white wine or liquor


There were large decreases in the estimates of hazard ratios related to alcohol consumption when adjustments were made for sun exposure and other known confounders, although the primary findings remained significant. Further, the inclusion in the main analyses of subjects with these skin cancers prior to baseline could have introduced bias in the results. There are considerable observational epidemiologic data suggesting that alcohol consumption may relate to an increase in the risk of MM and NMSC. As mechanisms are not known, there is still concern that much of this association may relate to residual confounding by ultraviolet sun exposure, the most important environmental factor for these diseases. R. Curtis Ellison, MD


Kubo JT, Henderson MT, Desai M, et al. Alcohol consumption and risk of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer in the Women’s Health Initiative. Cancer Causes Control. 2014;25(1):1–10.