Is Coffee the Next Method of Preventing Skin Cancer?

Janet Tiberian Author
By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
June 13, 2015
Can Coffee Help Prevent Skin Cancer?

Summer means watching ball games, going to barbeques and visiting the beach. However, the sun exposure we get from outdoor activities helps explain why skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States. 

The reality is that there are more cases of skin cancer diagnosed each year than cases of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers combined. In fact, the Skin Cancer Foundation reported that 2.8 million cases of basal cell cancer, 700,000 cases of squamous cell cancer and close to 74,000 cases of melanoma were diagnosed in the United States last year. 

For years melanoma was the only type of common skin cancer deemed as concerning; however, many medical professionals have recently changed their perspective and now consider basal and squamous cell cancers to be dangerous, particularly if the cancer is not detected and treated early.

Protection from ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the primary method of preventing skin cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancer cases are caused by sunlight. Yet, despite the array of sun blocks, UV ray protection clothing, umbrellas, hats and glasses available, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to report rising skin cancer rates. This led researchers to seek alternative methods for preventing skin cancer such as drinking coffee. 

Over the last couple of decades scientists have been working to find a possible link between coffee and cancer prevention, as coffee beans contain numerous bioactive compounds like cafestol and kahweol. These molecules promote cellular apoptosis, the process by which a stressed or injured cell intentionally shuts down to prevent damaging other cells. Coffee also contains chlorogenic acid, an antioxidant known for its cancer prevention properties. Although more research is needed, studies have found that drinking coffee may lower the risk of certain types of brain, colon, uterine/endometrial, oral, breast, liver and prostate cancers. 

As for skin cancer, results from a new National Cancer Institute study published a few months ago suggested that drinking a lot of coffee may reduce the risk of melanoma but only slightly. However, according to a long-term Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals’ Follow-Up Study, drinking three cups of coffee per day lowered the risk of basal cell cancer by 20 percent for women and 9 percent for men. Experts believe the combination of coffee’s bioactive compounds and high caffeine content helps protect our skin from non-melanoma skin cancers by absorbing UV light and suppressing ATR, a protein enzyme involved in a cell’s response to DNA damage, including UV-induced damage.  

For a better understanding of how caffeine affects ATR, Rutgers University investigators used caffeine to inhibit ATR in mice. They observed that the bodies of the mice were able to shut down cells damaged by UV radiation and lower the risk of cells that were exposed to UV radiation from turning cancerous. Researchers also noticed that caffeine was more effective in controlling pre-cancerous cells, as opposed to fully developed cancer cells.

Further evidence is found in an Australian study published in the European Journal of Nutrition. In this study, caffeine intake and coffee consumption were tracked among study participants. The results suggested that participants who had a history of basal cell cancer and a daily caffeine intake equal to four cups of coffee lowered their risk of their basal cell skin cancer reoccurring by 25 percent.

Whether or not to drink coffee has been a topic of debate for years. Since various conditions like insomnia, anxiety and high blood pressure are negatively affected by caffeine, it is best to discuss drinking coffee with your physician. Continue reading to learn more about the health benefits of coffee.

Even though caffeinated sunblock has been mentioned in some scientific circles, it has yet to be developed. In the meantime consider the following tips to help protect you from UV-radiation.

  • Limit UV-radiation by wearing sunblock, protective clothing, hats and sunglasses, as well as avoiding tanning beds and sun lamps. Continue reading for strategies to reduce the risk of skin cancer.
  • Eat a skin-friendly diet. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, flavonoids, a type of antioxidant found in fruits and vegetables may help protect your skin from cancer. For instance:
    • Apigenin – reduces inflammation and kills cancer cells. Apples, cherries, grapes, tomatoes, celery and onions are all good sources of apigenin.
    • Curcumin – reduces skin inflammation, helps maintain the skin cell repair process and inhibits the pathway for tumor development. It is a component of the spice turmeric, which can be added to many recipes including salads, soups and dressings. 
    • Quercetin – blocks the flow of nutrients and oxygen to cancerous cells. Add quercetin to your diet by eating apples and onions.   
    • ​Practice self-exams. Inspect your skin from head-to-toe on a monthly basis to keep track of new growths and changes to older lesions.

Remember that your MDVIP-affiliated physician is your best resource to guide your through prevention strategies for any illness for which you may be at risk. He or she has the time to discuss skin cancer prevention and coordinate treatment, if necessary.

About the Author
Janet Tiberian Author
Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES

Janet Tiberian is MDVIP's health educator. She has more than 25 years experience in chronic disease prevention and therapeutic exercise.

View All Posts By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
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