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Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center

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Drink Tea -- Your Skin May Thank You for It Later

WebMD Health News

April 5, 2001 -- Whether you enjoy a glass of tea or not, your skin may appreciate its medicinal effects. That's right. Researchers are investigating the natural properties of caffeine in tea to keep sun-damaged skin from becoming skin cancer.

Another group of scientists has developed an artificial enzyme that repairs sun-damaged DNA. Both treatments take advantage of the fact that skin cancer develops years or even decades after sun-induced skin damage occurs.

Skin cancer, the most common form of cancer, accounts for fully half of new cancer diagnoses in Western populations. More than a million new cases of skin cancer are reported in the U.S. every year. Although skin cancer usually develops later in life, most sun-induced damage, which is a major cause of skin cancer, happens earlier in life.

At the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, held last week in New Orleans, U.S. researchers reported that caffeine applied directly to the skin reversed sun-induced damage in mice.

"We've been studying the effects of green and black tea on chemically induced cancer and ultraviolet light-induced cancer in mice, particularly UVB light [from the sun]," senior author Allan H. Conney, PhD, tells WebMD. Conney is director of the Laboratory for Cancer Research at Rutgers University College of Pharmacy in Piscataway, N.J.

In previous studies, Conney and colleagues determined that green and black tea prevented sun-induced skin cancer when given orally to mice. The caffeine in the tea, they found, was the active component inhibiting cancer growth. Specifically, they found that caffeine increases skin cell death, suggesting injured skin cells die before cancer has a chance to develop in them.

Conney's team also found that oral caffeine increases levels of a special gene that is involved in suppressing tumor growth.

In their new study, Conney and colleagues investigated whether caffeine applied directly to sun-damaged skin would increase the death of damaged skin cells in mice.

"We exposed [mice] to UVB and then after the UVB exposure, we applied caffeine topically," he says. "We didn't want to have caffeine act as a sunscreen or work by some other mechanism because we wanted to explore what the biological effect of caffeine was immediately after exposure." They found that the topical caffeine did increase skin cell death.

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