Coffee fights common skin cancer

November 12, 2012

Coffee fights common skin cancer

A recently published study has found that the chance of getting the most widespread form of skin cancer can be cut by doing something as simple as drinking coffee. One of the researchers, Fengju Song, PhD, postdoctoral fellow in dermatology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, points out that coffee drinkers are probably benefiting from a ‘protective effect’ from caffeine.

The American Academy of Cancer Research was presented with the findings at a meeting in Boston. The study was large scale, involving more than 110,000 people who were looked at for a period of between 22 and 24 years. All of the participants came from the Nurses’ Health Study and related follow ups.

Throughout the period of the study, skin cancer diagnosis took place 25,480 times. These skin cancers were broken down into three main groups, 22,786 basal cell carcinomas, 1,953 squamous cell carcinomas, and 741 melanomas.

The study found that both men and women benefited if they drank more than three cups of coffee per day. Men had a 9% reduction in risk of developing a common form of skin cancer known as basal cell carcinoma (BCC), whereas women enjoyed a reduction in risk of 20%.

The researchers compared caffeinated coffee to decaffeinated coffee and found that decaffeinated coffee drinkers had no change to their risks of developing skin cancer. This has led the researchers to consider that caffeine is the active ingredient. The researchers take the view that, “It is likely that caffeine has a protective effect” because “the BCC risk was inversely associated with caffeine”.

At this point experts maintain that there are many better ways to protect yourself from the risk of skin cancer. They say that using sun screen, or staying out of the sun and ensuring that you do not get sunburn are far more effective at remaining skin cancer free. Paul Nghiem, MD, PhD, associate professor at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and University of Washington says, “This is yet another study that says there is some benefit in terms of skin cancer for drinking caffeinated beverages”. He says that if you enjoy these drinks then this is just one more reason to take them. However the effect may be minimal compared to protecting your skin from direct sunlight.

Active Ingredient is Caffeine

The most common type of skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma, and it accounts for about 90% of all the cases identified. The researchers say that this study is the first large scale study investigating the link between caffeine and skin cancer. In particular, three types of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma.

Earlier research results which indicated that caffeine may shield against skin cancer of the non melanoma type have been challenged as being inconsistent and failing academic rigor. In addition all of these studies took place as laboratory experiments or were conducted on animals.

The researchers in this study have identified a link between caffeine, in particular the amount of caffeine consumed and a reduced risk of basal cell carcinoma. No links to other types of skin cancer could be found.

The study found that in addition to a 20% reduction in risk for women who drank the most coffee when compared to non coffee drinkers, these women also had an 18% reduction in risk when compared to other women who drank the least amount of caffeine. Men showed the same signs but with a smaller reduction in risk.

Latte Sunscreen – A Thing of the Future?

Allan Conney, PhD, is director of the Susan Lehman Cullman Laboratory for Cancer Research at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey and he believes that caffeine is not effective against all types of skin cancer because of the biology of each type of cancer. He goes on to say, “It’s a very interesting study. It’s the first one that has implicated basal cell carcinoma reduction in coffee drinkers”. But he goes on to say that he was surprised, “that there was no effect on squamous cell carcinomas”. This is because he believed that the animal models indicated that it would be effective.

Paul Nghiem, MD, PhD, has worked previously with Conney on studies of caffeine and skin cancer in mice. And he tells us that caffeine is beneficial in preventing skin cancer because it kills the precancerous cells that are caused by sunlight. These damaged cells then begin to divide during the exposure to sunlight. Nghiem states that, “Those are cells that have gone rogue and need to be eliminated”.

Even though caffeine can be used to eliminate rogue cells Nghiem believes that rather than drinking coffee everyday it would be better to take a dose of caffeine before setting off to the beach or exposing your body to direct sunlight. This option protects the body from any, as yet, unidentified risks of taking too much caffeine.

Nghiem concludes by saying that, “Drinking coffee on a gray and rainy day is probably not very relevant. What we are testing now is what happens when you drink coffee on a day you go out and get sun”. He also tells us that the sunscreen industry is considering if caffeine should be added to sunscreen to augment its protection against skin cancer.

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