‘Tis the Season for Transparency

What better time of year to talk about alcohol than the month than when boozy Christmas pudding and eggnog reign supreme?

Recently, headlines buzzed with claims that white wine causes melanoma. Historically, studies show no significant difference between someone’s beverage of choice and their propensity to develop cancer. So why is this one different? For your answer, look to the sky.

White wine is often consumed outdoors and in warmer months, which also happens to be when people get the most sun exposure. And as we know, UV radiation promotes the development of melanoma.

The researchers did exclude lentigo maligna melanoma (LMM), a variant highly associated with UV exposure, from the white wine analysis. But instead of actually presenting the modified results by means of a table, chart, graph, or smoke signal, researchers left us with a “yep, all good!” comment promising the altered data still achieved statistical significance.

Which is problematic.

Two of the remaining three types of melanomas which are also influenced by UV radiation were not controlled for. Superficial spreading melanoma (SSM) and nodular melanoma (NM) are both UV-related when they occur on areas with heavy sun exposure – the head and neck, for instance.

So while results may have remained significant after eliminating one confounding variable, we have no way of knowing if data supports the same conclusion when all UV-related melanomas are taken into account.

If the authors had included their modified data in the report, we would been able to see if the results were barely significant, and therefore junked if all UV-associated cancers were taken into account. Alternatively, if eliminating LMM still showed a rock solid correlation between white wine and melanoma, their conclusion would be made stronger.

Since scientists typically want to make their conclusions seem as well-supported as possible, we’d guess it was the former, rather than the latter.

So as you pass the wine around the table, don’t be worried about choosing between red and white. And if you’re lucky enough to live in a region where a “white Christmas” is a foreign concept, we suggest pairing your favorite beverage with some sunscreen.