New research announceded on Monday offers evidence that drinking coffee is associated with a decreased risk of a common and slow-growing type of skin cancer known as basal cell carcinoma.
Scientists from Brigham and Women´s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston examined the risks of basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and melanoma in connection with coffee consumption and found the decreased risk was only seen in BCC.
The team presented their findings at the 10th American Association for Cancer Research International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research, held October 22 to 25.
They found that women in the study who drank more than 3 cups of coffee per day were 20 percent less likely to develop BCC, than those who drank less than a cup per day. Men who consumed more than three cups per day shown a 9 percent reduction in risk of BCC.
Data for the study came from the Nurses´ Health Study, which followed 72,921 people between 1984 and 2008, and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, which followed 39,976 people between 1986 and 2008. The researchers found 25,480 skin cancer cases, of which BCC represented 22,786 of the cases — or 88 percent.
BCC rarely spreads to other parts of the body, and rarely returns if promptly removed. However, any apparent health benefit that is found to come from our diet is a huge bonus, the researchers said.
“Given the nearly 1 million new cases of BCC diagnosed each year in the United States, daily dietary factors with even small protective effects may have great public health impact,” said Fengju Song, Ph.D., from Brigham and Women´s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and lead author of the study. “Our study indicates that coffee consumption may be an important option to help prevent BCC.”
“Daily dietary factors with even small protective effects may have great public health impact,” Song told the Los Angeles Times in a statement. “Our study indicates that coffee consumption may be an important option to help prevent basal cell carcinoma.”
Song said one limiting factor in the study, however, was that participants were in the healthcare field and may have had better habits than the average person.
The researchers noted that they found an association, but not a direct cause-effect link. Song said further research is needed to confirm the findings and probe how coffee may act to reduce the risk of BCC.
Song and colleagues were surprised by the inverse connection in BCC cases only. Previous studies in animals had suggested a link between caffeine consumption and a reduced risk of skin cancer, but studies in people had not been conclusive.
“Mouse studies have shown that oral or topical caffeine promotes elimination of UV-damaged keratinocytes via apoptosis (programmed cell death) and markedly reduces subsequent SCC development,” Song said. “However, in our cohort analysis, we did not find any inverse association between coffee consumption and the risk for SCC.”
Consumption of coffee has also been linked to a reduced risk of breast cancer and prostate cancer and cancer overall. “To the best of our knowledge, coffee consumption is a healthy habit,” Song said.
The biggest risk factor for skin cancer is exposure to UV radiation. When in the sun for prolonged periods, the researchers suggest applying sunscreen is more important than drinking an extra cup of coffee to avoid the risk of skin cancer.
BCC is the most common form of skin cancer in the United States. The Skin Cancer Foundation and the American Cancer Society offer more information about basal cell carcinomas.
The study has yet to be published.
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