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Coffee Brews Up Skin Cancer Protection

< Jul. 04, 2012 > -- Keep slathering on the sunscreen this summer, but have a glass of iced coffee handy, as well. A new study says that caffeine may lower your risk for a certain type of skin cancer.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School and Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston found that women who drank more than three cups of caffeinated coffee a day cut their risk for basal cell carcinoma by 21 percent, compared with women who drank less than one cup a month. Men who drank the same amount of coffee reduced their risk by 10 percent.

Basal cell carcinoma accounts for about 80 percent of all skin cancers. It starts in the top layer of skin, usually as a small, shiny bump or nodule, and is found most often on areas of skin that get regular sun exposure - head, neck, arms, hands, and face. It grows slowly and rarely spreads to other parts of the body.

For the study, published this week in the journal Cancer Research, researchers looked at more than 20 years of data from the Nurses' Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. They included more than 112,000 people in their analysis.

Caffeine's benefits

The researchers identified caffeine as the protective substance. "Caffeine inhibits tumor progression," says study co-author Jiali Han, Ph.D. "We saw the effect in mice and thought we should do this research to see if it applies to humans, too."

In addition to coffee, caffeinated teas, colas, and chocolate also appear to reduce basal cell skin cancer risk.

But caffeine had no protective effect against squamous cell carcinoma or melanoma, a much deadlier form of skin cancer.

And the study authors pointed out that the results showed only an association between caffeine consumption and lowered skin cancer risk. The study didn't prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

Sun protection still key

Other experts urged people to use proven strategies for skin cancer prevention instead of viewing coffee as the new sunscreen. "If you want to drink coffee, go ahead," says Albert Lefkovits, M.D., at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. "But it doesn't permit you to neglect using a complete sun protection regimen."

The American Academy of Dermatology offers these tips for summer sun protection:

  • Wear a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses when outdoors.

  • Seek the shade when the sun's rays are the strongest, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, even on cloudy days. Reapply sunscreen every two hours and after swimming or sweating.

  • Protect children from the sun by using shade, protective clothing, and sunscreen.

  • Use extra caution near water and sand, which can reflect the sun's rays and increase the chances of sunburn.

For more information on health and wellness, please visit health information modules on this website.

Who's at Risk?

Although anyone can get basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma, some people are at higher risk. These are risk factors for nonmelanoma skin cancer:

  • Regular exposure to the sun, or tanning lamps or booths

  • Personal history of skin cancer

  • Gender: Men are twice as likely as women to get this cancer

  • Easily sunburned

  • Red or blonde hair, light-colored eyes, light skin color

  • Freckles, which show sun sensitivity and sun damage

  • Smoking: People who smoke are at an increased risk of skin cancer, especially on the lips

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

American Academy of Dermatology - Basal Cell Carcinoma

American Cancer Society - Skin Cancer: Basal and Squamous Cell

Cancer Research - Increased Caffeine Intake Is Associated with Reduced Risk of Basal Cell Carcinoma of the Skin