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Can Coffee Prevent Skin Cancer?

Starbucks lovers rejoice! A new study presented this past month at a meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) found drinking coffee could prevent skin cancer.

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the American Cancer Society (ACS) there are 1 million new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer each year. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer and accounts for 90% of all skin cancers. Unlike the most deadly skin cancer melanoma, basal cell carcinoma is highly curable. It rarely metastasizes or causes death however it invades surrounding tissues and can be very disfiguring to remove.

Some prior epidemiological studies looked at populations of coffee drinkers and suggested people who consumed more coffee seemed to have less skin cancers. Prior laboratory studies done in cell cultures found caffeine targets a protein needed by the cancer cells to grow and divide.

But this new large study is one of the first prospective studies from Nurse’s Health Study and Health Professional Follow-up Study. Meaning it followed almost 100,000 people going forward from 1984-2008, looking at the effect of coffee drinking on all 3 types of skin cancer, basal cell, squamous cell and the most deadly melanoma.

What the researchers found was the amount of caffeinated coffee people drank was inversely proportional to the risk of basal cell skin cancer. This means the more coffee they drank the less basal cell cancer they developed. However it did not seem to affect the risk of developing the other 2 types of skin cancer.

Specifically women who drank the most amount coffee, more than 3 cups a day compared to those who drank less than 1 cup per month had an almost 20% lower risk of getting basal cell skin cancer. For men the risk reduction was smaller, the biggest coffee drinkers had approximately a 13% lower risk of getting basal cell skin cancer.

But before you down a full thermos on the way to the beach, use common sense. Three cups of coffee a day is probably ok but don’t over do it, too much caffeine can raise your heart rate and blood pressure. Also try not to load it up with cream and sugar, which can be fattening. And if you find yourself sensitive to caffeine and you have some sleep issues try drinking it earlier in the day. There is nothing like a steaming hot mug of cancer prevention first thing in the morning!

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© Dr. Leigh Vinocur, 2022.