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A coffee a day, keeps the doctor away?

Friday 19 August, 2011 by Cairín

According to a US study, coffee has been shown to reduce the risk of non-melanoma skin cancers by helping kill off damaged cells that could otherwise turn into tumours. Non-melanoma skin cancer, including basal cell and squamous cell types, are the most commonly diagnosed skin cancers and typically less deadly than melanoma.

Australians everywhere rejoiced upon hearing the news! In Melbourne, the coffee capital of Australia, there were commuters dancing down Degraves Lane on their way to order a double espresso, guilt-free indulging in the thought that it would cut their cancer risk.

But is there any truth to the findings indicating that moderate caffeine drinking, or perhaps even applying coffee to the skin, could be useful in warding off non-melanoma cancer, the most commonly diagnosed of all skin cancers?

And does SunSmart need to change its catchy "Slip Slap Slop Seek and Slide" slogan to include "Sip" on a latte?

The short answer is, not yet!

Previous studies have shown a link between caffeine intake and a decrease in non-melanoma skin cancers and this research shows a potential mechanism of how this might be possible. This is a relatively new area of research and there needs to be a lot more work before SunSmart suggests lattes and coffee beans as sun protection.

Although the study showed that the mice were able to fend off cancer even when exposed to ultraviolet light, the mice did eventually all get tumours. This study does however reinforce what we already know - over exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and other artificial sources, such as solariums, causes skin cancer. In fact, 99 per cent of skin cancer and 95 per cent of melanoma are caused by sun exposure.

The most effective strategy for preventing skin cancers is to check the UV alert each day, which is available on a free-to-download SunSmart application for iPhones and at sunsmart.com.au. Heading into spring, the UV is on the rise and can be high even on cloudy days so don't rely on temperature as a guide for when to use sun protection.

Whenever the UV is 3 and above, remember to do 5 things - use protective clothing, broad spectrum, water-resistant SPF30+ sunscreen, a big hat, find some shade if possible and sunglasses but don't start lathering up with a skinny soy frappuccino each morning, just yet!

For more information on sun protection, skin cancer and vitamin D go to www.sunsmart.com.au.

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