Oct. 24, 2011 -- Drinking coffee may help prevent the most common type of skin cancer.
A new study shows that women who drank more than three cups of coffee per day had a 20% lower risk of developing basal cell carcinoma (BCC) than women who drank less than one cup a month.
Men who drank more than three cups of coffee benefited from a 9% reduction in risk of this type of skin cancer.
Drinking decaffeinated coffee did not have any effect on skin cancer risk, which leads researchers to suspect caffeine is the key ingredient.
"It is likely that caffeine has a protective effect," researcher Fengju Song, PhD, postdoctoral fellow in dermatology at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, says in an email. "BCC risk was inversely associated with caffeine."
But before you go out and pour yourself another cup of joe, experts say there are better things you can do to reduce your risk of skin cancer.
"This is yet another study that says there is some benefit in terms of skin cancer for drinking caffeinated beverages,” says Paul Nghiem, MD, PhD, associate professor at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and University of Washington. “And if you do so, it is another reason to enjoy them. But it is a pretty small effect compared to known things, like getting a cancer detected and cut out early, avoiding sunburns, etc."
Researchers say it's the first large, prospective study to look at the effect of coffee drinking on three different types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma.
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer and accounts for about 90% of skin cancers.
Previous studies have suggested coffee drinking may help protect against non-melanoma skin cancers, but the results have been inconsistent and mostly in animals or laboratory studies.
The study was presented at the American Academy of Cancer Research meeting this week in Boston. Researchers looked at the effects of coffee drinking on skin cancer risk in more than 110,000 people who participated in the Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-Up Study.
The participants were followed for an average of 22 to 24 years. During this period, 25,480 cases of skin cancer were reported, including 22,786 basal cell carcinomas, 1,953 squamous cell carcinomas, and 741 melanomas.
The results showed that the amount of caffeinated coffee people drank was associated with the risk of basal cell carcinoma but not other types of skin cancer.
For example, compared with those who drank the least caffeinated coffee, women who drank the most coffee had an 18% lower risk of basal cell carcinoma, and men had a 13% lower risk.