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Caffeine May Offer Some Skin Cancer Protection
Date:2/26/2009

It might one day be used as an ingredient in sunscreen, researchers say

THURSDAY, Feb. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Past studies have suggested that caffeine might offer some protection from skin cancer, and new research may explain why.

"We have found what we believe to be the mechanism by which caffeine is associated with decreased skin cancer," said lead researcher Dr. Paul Nghiem, an associate professor of dermatology at the University of Washington in Seattle.

For the study, Nghiem's team looked at caffeine's effect on human skin cells in a laboratory that had been exposed to ultraviolet radiation. They found that in cells damaged by UV rays, caffeine interrupted a protein called ATR-Chk1, causing the damaged cells to self-destruct.

"Caffeine has no effect on undamaged cells," Nghiem said.

ATR is essential to damaged cells that are growing rapidly, Nghiem said, and caffeine specifically targets damaged cells that can become cancerous. "Caffeine more than doubles the number of damaged cells that will die normally after a given dose of UV," he said.

"This is a biological mechanism that explains what we have been seeing for many years from the oral intake of caffeine," he added.

The findings were published online Feb. 26 in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

But, Nghiem added, people shouldn't increase the amount of coffee or tea they drink to prevent skin cancer. "You are talking a lot of cups for a lot of years for a relatively small effect," he said. "But if you like it, it's another reason to drink it."

Nghiem has also been experimenting with applying caffeine directly to the skin. "It suppresses skin cancer development by as much as 72 percent in mice, and human studies are moving ahead slowly," he said.

It's possible that topical caffeine preparations might one day be used to help prevent skin cancer, Nghiem said. "Caffeine is both a suns
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