Can Coffee Keep Skin Cancer Away?

You rarely hear about the health benefits of coffee. Instead, you're warned that it's linked to elevated heart rates, high blood pressure, digestive issues, and anxiety. But there may be some good news for people who still love their daily cups of joe.

According to new studies from the American Association for Cancer Research, drinking coffee may reduce your risk for developing basal cell carcinoma. Approximately one million new cases of basal cell carcinoma are diagnosed each year, making it the most common form of skin cancer. Particularly common on sun-exposed areas of the body like the face, scalp, and arms, basal cell carcinoma is treated by excising or freezing off the cancerous area. It's rarely fatal, but it does put you at higher risk for other, more deadly kinds of skin cancer like melanoma.

These studies followed the health of more than 110,000 people from 1984 to 2008. Approximately 25,000 of these people developed skin cancer, 22,786 of which were cases of basal cell carcinoma. The studies showed that women who drank more than three cups of coffee a day were 20 percent less likely to develop basal cell carcinoma and men who drank the same amount reduced their risk by nine percent, when compared to people who drank less than one cup of coffee a month.

Scientists aren't exactly sure why coffee could have this effect, especially since it showed no reduction of risk for other skin cancers, like squamous cell carcinoma or melanoma. However, they suspect that caffeine helps UV-damaged skin to die faster and prevents cancer cells from forming, whether it's ingested or applied topically. This is one reason why caffeine is also a popular ingredient in anti-aging skin creams. They are also fairly certain that the anti-cancerous benefits lie in the caffeine, not another substance in coffee, so people will likely yield the same results from other caffeinated beverages.

The Verdict

Unfortunately, this research is very preliminary and other studies have not verified these results. The health risks of drinking three or more cups of coffee every day likely outweigh the benefits, unless you are at high risk for basal cell carcinoma. The bottom line? There's not enough proof here to make a case to change your current coffee habit.


Sources: "Skin Cancer Signs & Symptoms." American Academy of Dermatology. Web. 2011 "Coffee consumption associated with decreased risk for basal cell carcinoma". American Association for Cancer Research. Web. October 24, 2011