Good news for coffee lovers—drinking caffeinated coffee could lower the risk of developing basal cell carcinoma, according to the results of a study published in Cancer Research. The Harvard study found that increased caffeine intake was associated with a decreased risk of the common skin cancer.
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of cancer in the United States—and the most commonly diagnosed type of skin cancer. The cancer starts in the outer layer of the skin, the epidermis, and usually results from regular exposure to sunlight or other ultraviolet radiation. The prevalence of BCC is increasing, with approximately 2.8 million new cases diagnosed in the U.S. each year. BCC is rarely fatal, but can be highly disfiguring if allowed to grow.
The best way to prevent skin cancer is to reduce exposure to ultraviolet radiation from sunlight and tanning booths; however, researchers continue to explore other factors associated with the development of skin cancer. To explore the protective effects of dietary choices, researchers from Harvard performed a prospective analysis on data from 112,897 participants from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study.
During more than 20 years of follow-up in the two studies, 22,786 people developed BCC. The researchers observed an inverse association between coffee consumption and the risk of BCC. Furthermore, there was an inverse association between caffeine intake from all dietary sources (coffee, tea, cola, and chocolate) and the risk of BCC. Consumption of decaffeinated coffee was not associated with a decreased risk of BCC.
The researchers speculated that it was the caffeine in coffee that was responsible for the decreased risk—because as consumption of caffeinated coffee increased, the risk of developing BCC decreased. However, this does not mean that a coffee habit is the key to skin cancer prevention. In fact, coffee consumption and caffeine intake appeared to have no impact on the risk of the other two forms of skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.
The data is interesting and will likely continue to be studied, especially since caffeine has been shown to have protective effects with other conditions such as type 2 diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. In the meantime, the best way to prevent skin cancer continues to be reduced sun exposure. Coffee drinkers and non-coffee drinkers alike are encouraged to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen; wear sun-protective clothing, including a wide-brimmed hat; and seek shade whenever possible.
Song F, Qureshi AA, Han J. Increased caffeine intake is associated with reduced risk of basal cell carcinoma of the skin. Cancer Research. 2012; 72: 3282-3289.
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