Sunblock you can drink? A new study suggests that drinking coffee could reduce the risk of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, by as much as 20%. Researchers from the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health and the Yale School of Public Health found that the more coffee people drank, the lower their melanoma risk.
To reach this conclusion, the team assessed data from the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study, which included 447,357 non-Latino white participants who were cancer-free at the start of the study.
The participants completed a food frequency questionnaire at the beginning of the study, including their coffee intake. Then the incidence of melanoma among subjects was tracked over an average of 10.5 years. Over this period, 2,905 test subjects developed melanoma — the fifth most common cancer and the leading cause of skin cancer death in the United States.
The researchers found that the more coffee participants drank each day, the less likely they were to develop melanoma. Drinking four cups a day was associated with a 20% lower risk. Those results remained consistent regardless of participants' age, sex, body mass index, alcohol intake, smoking history and even ultraviolet radiation exposure, which is the primary risk factor for skin cancer.
The association was only found among participants who consumed caffeinated coffee, not decaffeinated. Coffee also only appeared to reduce the risk of malignant melanoma, not melanoma in situ, an early form of the disease in which melanoma cells have not spread beyond the outer cells of the skin. This "may indicate different disease etiologies or an inhibitory role of coffee consumption in disease progression," the researchers write.
According to the study, bioactive compounds in coffee suppress UVB-induced skin cancer by protecting against oxidative stress and DNA damage in cells and by reducing inflammation in epidermal cells. And caffeine, the researchers say, taken both orally and applied topically, has been shown to absorb ultraviolet radiation, "functioning as a sunscreen."
The researchers call it just a "modest" decrease in melanoma risk, but they add that "lifestyle modifications with even modest protective effects may have a meaningful impact on melanoma morbidity." Still, they emphasize that "the most important thing that individuals can do to reduce their risk of melanoma is to reduce sun and UV radiation exposure."
More than half of adults in the U.S. drink an average of 3.1 cups of coffee every day, according to "Medical News Today."
Numerous health benefits have been associated with coffee consumption, including a lower risk of death from several kinds of cancer, reduced risk of liver disease, lower risk of type 2 diabetes, a reduced risk of tinnitus and a lower overall risk of death.