Multiple human studies have recently demonstrated that caffeinated coffee intake is associated with decreased risk of developing skin cancer (and other types of cancer) in a dose-dependent manner. These studies provide insights into how caffeine affects our DNA damage response.
Masaoki Kawasumi, MD, Ph.D is a skin cancer researcher and assistant professor at the University of Washington Department of Dermatology. He speaks on skin cancer causes, warning signs and prevention – which, surprisingly enough, can be achieved, in part, through caffeine consumption.
While spending some time in the sun is a treat, UV rays can damage skin through aging, sunburns and skin cancer.
“One hour of sunlight generates one hundred thousand DNA lesions per cell, which are potentially mutagenic,” says Kawasumi. Monitoring the ABCDEs of melanoma can assist in identifying different types of skin tumors and their associated risks for melanoma:
- Asymmetry: One half of the spot is unlike the other half.
- Border: The spot has an irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined border.
- Color: The spot has varying colors from one area to the next, such as shades of tan, brown or black, or areas of white, red, or blue.
- Diameter: While melanomas are usually greater than 6 millimeters, or about the size of a pencil eraser, when diagnosed, they can be smaller.
- Evolving: The spot looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape, or color.
Caffeine & skin cancer
Preventing skin cancer can be done through both sun avoidance and use of sunscreen. On sunny days, wear hats and sunscreen to avoid additional UV skin damage. Additionally, increasing public awareness of skin cancer and its prevention methods can be effective for skin cancer reduction.
For caffeine lovers, there’s some good news: Skin cancer and kidney cancer can be prevented through drinking coffee. Around 400,000 melanoma skin cancers in the United States are prevented each year from drinking caffeinated coffee. A study found that each daily cup of caffeinated coffee is associated with a 5% reduced risk of skin cancer, and is dose-dependent.
A slight risk reduction is associated with drinking tea, but this reduction is much less pronounced in comparison to the risk reduction associated coffee. Consumption of caffeinated coffee can also help prevent other types of cancers, such as hepatocellular, endometrial, and oral cancers.
How does this work? Caffeine augments UV-induced apotosis – a form of cell death – meaning that it assists with eliminating precancerous cells and suppressing UV carcinogenesis.
So what does this mean? Drink coffee at the beach! “Caffeine needs to be present at the time of UV exposure, not long after, to effectively prevent skin cancer,” says Kawasumi.
As always, consult a dermatologist for prevention and early detection of skin cancer and to monitor and ask questions regarding skin changes.
Want a deeper dive into the science? Watch Dr. Kawasumi’s talk for The Whole U:
Masaoki Kawasumi, MD, PhD is a photobiology and skin cancer researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle.
During medical school, Dr. Kawasumi had the opportunity to work with Masafumi Nishizawa, PhD (Microbiology, Keio University), elucidating the regulation of cell cycle progression in yeast. After graduating from Keio University School of Medicine, Dr. Kawasumi received Ph.D training in the neuroscience field. He generated a knock-in mouse model for Alzheimer’s disease that recapitulated memory deficits analogous to those in humans.
In 2004, Dr. Kawasumi joined Dr. Nghiem’s laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital as a postdoctoral fellow. In 2006, Dr. Kawasumi moved from Boston to Seattle when Dr. Nghiem moved his laboratory to the University of Washington. Since then, Dr. Kawasumi has been conducting research in skin cancer biology, particularly addressing how cells respond to UV damage and how the DNA damage response can be harnessed to prevent UV-associated skin cancers, the most prevalent cancers in the U.S.
After completing postdoctoral work with Paul Nghiem, Dr. Kawasumi launched a research laboratory in 2016 at the University of Washington Dermatology. The Kawasumi Lab focuses on elucidating molecular mechanisms of UV-mediated diseases (skin cancer and lupus). His research has been supported by the National Institutes of Health and Dermatology Foundation.