Skin Cancer and Coffee – Reducing the Risk of Basal Cell Carcinoma

coffee cuts skin cancer risk coffee bath
Could bathing in coffee protect against a common form of skin cancer?

More than three cups of coffee a day could cut your risk of basal cell carcinoma according to new research, but the caffeine has little impact on other forms of skin cancer such as melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

The benefit is thought more pronounced in women and appears to be linked to caffeine rather than the coffee itself, according to the authors of a paper published in Cancer Research this week. Should you be bathing in coffee as a way to naturally healthy skin?

Three Cups of Coffee a Day

Fengju Song, PhD, and fellow researchers at Harvard Medical School, and Tiajin Medical University Cancer Institute, China, looked at data from more than 110,000 healthcare professionals to determine coffee consumption and skin cancer incidence. More than three cups of caffeinated coffee a day was associated with a 17% reduction in the relative risk of basal cell carcinoma compared to those who drank less than a cup of coffee a month.

Chocolate, tea, and cola were also associated with a reduced risk of this form of skin cancer, presumably due to their caffeine content. Decaffeinated coffee did not have this protective effect, however.

Basal Cell Carcinoma is a Major Health Issue

Basal cell carcinoma is a growing problem in the US, accounting for 80% of newly diagnosed skin cancers and 30% of all newly diagnosed cancers. According to the authors of this latest study BCC cases are increasing by 4-8% each year and will soon equal the number of all other cancers combined. Animal research has shown that oral or topical administration of caffeine markedly reduces the risk of skin cancer.

This is most likely due to the apoptotic effect of caffeine on skin cells, essentially causing damaged basal skin cells to self-destruct and eliminating keratinocytes, the precursors to nonmelanoma skin cancers. This effect does not occur in squamous cells or melanocytes (the cells that produce the skin pigment, melanin).

Coffee or Caffeine for Skin Cancer Risk Reduction?

Earlier studies into the effects of coffee and tea on skin cancer rates also reported an inverse association with nonmelanoma skin cancers but the results of such studies were often confused due to the inclusion of both decaffeinated and caffeinated beverages. This latest study specifically looked at caffeine consumption in 112,897 participants completing self-administered questionnaires covering lifestyle, diet, and medical history every two years.

The eligible participants were grouped into five categories of coffee consumption: less than a cup a month, one cup a month to one cup a day, one to two cups a day, two to three cups a day, and more than three cups a day. Relative risk for the highest coffee consumers compared to those in the lowest consumption group was 0.83 and coffee comprised some 78.5% of all caffeine consumption in the participants.

The effect was most pronounced in women who had a relative risk factor of 0.82, compared to men’s RR of 0.87 when looking at the highest and lowest coffee consumption groups. When looking specifically at caffeinated coffee the relative risk for women was just 0.79, but the authors offer no explanation as to why the RR in men was 0.90.

Drinking to Good Health

basal cell carcinoma coffee reduces risk of skin cancer
Coffee cuts the risk of BCC but not other skin cancer types.

Unfortunately, studies such as these are only as good as the data collected and so details concerning the type of tea consumed (black, green, herbal), brewing strength, and other matters remain a potential confounding factor. Coffee may have some disadvantages in terms of effect on blood sugar homeostasis, adrenal health, and other health issues but it does appear to be beneficial in numerous ways.

Three cups a day seems to be the magic number for Alzheimer’s Disease and now that research suggests coffee may reduce the risk of basal cell carcinoma, perhaps it’s time to add that espresso back into your daily health regime.


Fengju Song, Abrar A. Qureshi and Jiali Han, Increased Caffeine Intake Is Associated with Reduced Risk of Basal Cell Carcinoma of the Skin, Cancer Res. 72(13) July 1, 2012.

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