A prospective study found that the more coffee an adult drinks, the lower their risk seems to be for developing basal cell carcinoma, a common type of skin cancer. Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School presented their findings at the 10th AACR International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research, explaining that there is an inverse association between coffee consumption and basal cell carcinoma risk.

Basal cell carcinoma, also known as BCC is the most common form of skin cancer. In this disease, the cancer looks like the basal cells of the outer layer of skin (epidermis). They usually start off as a “sore that will not heal”. The sore, often a bleeding or scabbing one, gets better and then comes back and starts bleeding. Most commonly, BCC emerge on the neck and face; the parts of the body most exposed to the sun. However, a fair proportion also appear on the leg, scalp, or abdomen. In the majority of cases they are locally invasive, they do not metastasize (spread to other parts of the body).

Co-author, Fengju Song, Ph.D., said:

“Given the nearly 1 million new cases of BCC diagnosed each year in the United States, daily dietary factors with even small protective effects may have great public health impact. Our study indicates that coffee consumption may be an important option to help prevent BCC.”

Basal cell carcinoma2
A basal cell carcinoma

Song and team gathered data from the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (PFS). The NHS included 72,921 individuals who were tracked from June 1984 to the end of June 2008. The PFS included 39,976 people, they were tacked from June 1986 to June 2008.

There were 25,480 cases of skin cancer, of which 22,786 were BCC, 1,953 were squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and 741 were melanoma.

The researchers found that:

  • Women who had at least three cups of coffee daily had a 20% lower chance of developing BCC, compared to those who consumed less than one cup per month
  • Men who consumed at least three cups of coffee per day had a 9% lower risk of BCC

Coffee consumption was inversely linked to BCC risk, Song said. The women in the highest quintile had an 18% lower risk, while the men in the highest quintile had a 13% lower risk.

These results surprised the researchers. Prior animal studies had indicated a link between coffee consumption and a positive cancer risk. However, epidemiologic studies have not compellingly shown the same results.

Song said:

“Mouse studies have shown that oral or topical caffeine promotes elimination of UV-damaged keratinocytes via apoptosis (programmed cell death) and markedly reduces subsequent SCC development. However, in our cohort analysis, we did not find any inverse association between coffee consumption and the risk for SCC.”

Song and team believe further studies are required that can look into the mechanism behind a lower risk of BCC and higher coffee intake.

Written by Christian Nordqvist