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Women who drank more than three cups of coffee daily were 21 percent less likely to develop basal cell carcinoma , compared with women who drank less than one cup of caffeinated coffee per month, the study showed. For men, this risk reduction was 10 percent.
"Most likely, the protective effect is due to caffeine," said lead author Jiali Han, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. People in the study who drank decaffeinated coffee did not appear to have a lower risk of developing the skin cancer.
Additionally, the researchers found that the more caffeinated coffee that people in the study drank, the lower their risk of developing basal cell carcinoma, the most common type of skin cancer .
But the findings don't mean that your cup of joe can substitute for daily sunscreen.
The study is not conclusive — it showed an association, not a direct cause-and-effect relationship between caffeinated coffee and skin cancer risk. Although mouse studies have shown that caffeine may prevent the development of squamous cell carcinoma due to UV exposure, there is still no direct, convincing data showing coffee prevents skin cancer in people.
Han also emphasized that while it seems likely the benefit of the coffee comes from caffeine, researchers cannot yet know for sure. "There are lots of compounds in the coffee, including antioxidants. The process of decaffeination can wash out other compounds in the coffee, so we cannot 100 percent tease out that caffeine is the only factor responsible for the effect," Han said.
Benefits of coffee
"Not everyone equally benefits from caffeine consumption," Han said. The researchers would like to investigate which genes may explain why some people gain cancer protection from drinking caffeine, he said.
Coffee has recently been found to lower people's risk of dying over a given period, and to decrease the risk of prostate, breast and endometrial cancer, said Mucci.
But the mechanisms at play in these conditions may be different, Mucci said. "For prostate cancer and endometrial cancers, the data show the same benefit of lower risk from caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee," she said.
Coffee influences several body processes — it has antioxidant effects, helps insulin regulation and may lower inflammation, Mucci said. "It may be that different components of coffee are important for different cancers."
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