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Help Prevent Skin Cancer -- Have Another Cup of Joe

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have a cup of joe and help protect yourself from skin cancer iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Good news for coffee connoisseurs. That carafe of joe you need to get moving in the morning could be doing double-duty. Coffee may be helping you avoid the most common type of skin cancer.

Researchers at Boston's Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health found the more caffeinated coffee you consume, the lower your risk is for basal cell carcinoma.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is a slow-growing and typically painless non-melanoma skin cancer that affects about 2.8 million people in the United States each year, primarily caused by overexposure to sun.

While BCC rarely spreads beyond the original tumor site, it causes a considerable number of deaths and places a significant burden on health care systems.

But before you brew up another pot, the researchers say there are also negative health consequences to upping your coffee consumption, such as increased risks for Parkinson’s disease and type 2 diabetes.

“I would not recommend increasing your coffee intake based on these data alone,” said Jiali Han Ph.D., who headed up the research published in Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research. “But given the large number of newly diagnosed cases, daily dietary changes having any protective effect may have an impact on public health.”

For the research, Han and his colleagues used data from more than 20 years of follow-up with 12,897 participants from two studies. The Nurses’ Health Study is a large and long-running study to aid in the investigation of factors influencing women’s health. The Health Professionals Follow-up Study is an analogous study for men.

The researchers found a lower BCC skin cancer risk associated with all caffeinated coffee consumption and a similar outcome from all caffeine dietary sources, such as tea, cola and chocolate. Drinking decaffeinated coffee, however, didn't decrease a person's BCC risk.

The study results are consistent with earlier studies in mice. Those studies demonstrated caffeine can block BCC skin tumor formation, but the researchers say more studies are needed to know for sure that caffeine is responsible, particularly in humans.

One glaring question researchers were left with after the study's completion is why coffee nor any caffeinated dietary source doesn’t appear to have the same anti-cancer effect on the two other forms of skin cancer-- squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and melanoma, the most deadly form of the disease.

Han says it is possible previous studies looking at SCC and melanoma cancers were just too limited to have found an association between caffeine consumption and those cancer types.

“As the study participants are followed for a longer time, the number of cases of these conditions is likely to increase. We may be in a position in 10 years’ time to better address this issue,” he said.

Lynette Summerill is an award-winning writer and Scuba enthusiast living in San Diego, CA with her husband and two beach loving dogs. In addition to writing about cancer-related issues for EmpowHER, her work has been seen in newspapers and magazines around the world.


Basal cell carcinoma. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. National Institutes of Health. Accessed 26 June, 2012 at

Increased Caffeine Intake Is Associated with Reduced Risk of Basal Cell Carcinoma of the skin. Song F., Qureshi, A.Q., Han J. Cancer Research. July 1, 2012. 72(13) 3282-3289.

Basal Cell Carcinoma. SkinCancer.org. accessed 26 June 2012. http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/basal-cell-carcinoma

Coffee Consumption Inversely Associated with Risk of Most Common Form of Skin Cancer. AACR News Release. Jeremy Moore. 2 July 2012.

Reviewed July 2, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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