Induction of skin carcinogenicity by alcohol and ultraviolet light

Clin Exp Dermatol. 2010 Jan;35(1):7-11. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2230.2009.03465.x. Epub 2009 Sep 23.


In western societies, casual consumption of alcohol during such outdoor activities as barbecuing and sunbathing is common. The current literature shows that alcohol drinkers have increased episodes of sunburn and a higher prevalence of skin cancer. Moreover, recent evidence suggests that the combination of subcarcinogenic (minimal) ultraviolet (UV) exposure with other behavioural, environmental and xenobiotic factors has resulted in increased incidents of skin-related health problems that also result in skin-cancer formation. We hypothesize that the combination of alcohol consumption with UV radiation can potentiate the skin carcinogenic effects through the intermediate biproducts or metabolites of alcohol, which serve as the photosensitizers, consequently enhancing the cellular damage. We have proposed a mechanism that explains the combined alcohol-UV radiation carcinogenicity and its potential involvement in enhancing skin damage in the multistep skin carcinogenesis process. Previous literature has explored this mutual effect but no studies have definitively ascribed the reasons for increased skin cancer prevalence among alcohol drinkers. Nevertheless, the preceding epidemiological data and clinical studies recognize this matter, making the further testing of this hypothesis necessary.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects*
  • Carcinoma, Basal Cell / etiology*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / etiology*
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / radiation effects
  • Cocarcinogenesis
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / etiology*
  • Protective Clothing
  • Sunburn / complications*
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects*