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Last updated on April 17, 2014 at 21:23 EDT

Could Caffeine Some Day Help Ward Off Cancer?

August 17, 2011

Researchers say that applying caffeine to skin in sunny weather may help to protect against skin cancer.

Researchers from Rutgers University used experiments on mice in the study and found that those who had caffeine applied to their skin took longer to develop tumors and have fewer of them if they did develop.

However, experts warn there could be adverse affect on other cancers by using caffeine this way.

Caffeine is known to interfere with a protein involved in detecting DNA damage known as ATR.  Scientists modified the mice so they did not produce any ATR in the skin.

Mice were exposed to UV light three times a week for 40 weeks.

Those without ATR developed their first tumor three weeks later than normal mice.  After 19 weeks there were 69 percent fewer tumors in mice without ATR. 

The study said: “At any given point in time the average number of tumors in [modified] mice was significantly lower.

“Caffeine application could be useful in preventing UV-induced skin cancers,” the researchers add.

Applying caffeine on a beach to a person’s skin is not the same thing as genetically modifying mouse skin in a laboratory.  More studies need to be done to show any possible protective effects in humans.

Prof Dot Bennett, professor of cell biology, St George’s, University of London, told The Daily Mail: “The authors suggest adding caffeine or related molecules to sunscreens.

“First one might want to check there is no adverse effect of caffeine on the incidence of other cancers, especially melanoma, pigmented skin cancer, which kills over four times as many people as squamous cell carcinoma.

“But caffeine lotion might promote tanning a little, since this family of molecules stimulates pigment cells to make more pigment.”

Previous studies credited drinking caffeinated tea and coffee with warding off non-melanoma skin cancer.

The biggest of the previous studies involved 93,676 women who each had a cup of caffeinated coffee each day.  This study found that a cup of coffee a day cut the odds of skin cancer by about 5 percent.

The recent study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

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