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Caffeinated cream could slow skin cancer

16th August 2011

Researchers in the United States say that suncream containing caffeine could boost protection against skin cancer.

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Previous studies have shown that people who drink tea and coffee tend to have a lower risk of getting certain cancers, especially skin carcinomas associated with ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight.

While the mechanism by which caffeine protects against skin cancer is still unknown, researchers said it could be linked to the inhibition of certain DNA damage response mechanisms.

The study suggests that applying caffeine to the skin could offer additional protection against damage from the sun's UV radiation.

Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers said that their experiments on mice suggested that caffeine prevents UV damage.

Genetically modified mice took longer to develop cancer tumours than a control group without the treatment, and when they did develop tumours, there were fewer of them.

The genetic modifications were designed to mimick certain chemical pathways which control response to DNA damage, which happens when the skin comes into contact with UV light.

Caffeine inhibits a protein called ATR which is involved in detecting damage to DNA.

The genetically modified mice produced no ATR on their skin, and therefore reacted as if they had been treated with caffeine.

The mice were exposed to UV radiation three times a week over a period of 40 weeks.

The modified mice took around three weeks longer to develop their first tumour, and they still had less than one third of the tumours seen in the control group.

However, all the mice had developed squamous cell carcinoma by the end of the study, which is one of the commonest forms of skin cancer.

Researchers concluded that the average number of tumours was significantly lower in the modified mice at any given time in the study, however.

They suggested that the application of caffeine to the skin might help ward off UV-induced skin cancers in people.

But they said further studies would be needed to investigate the effects of applying caffeine to the skin of a person sitting on a beach.

Cell biology professor Dot Bennett said that while the authors of the study had suggested adding caffeine to sun-screen products, it would be important to investigate whether there were any adverse effects of caffeine of other types of cancer.

She said the pigmented skin cancer melanoma was of particular concern, as it killed more than four times as many people as squamous cell carcinoma.

However, she said a caffeinated lotion might promote tanning because of its ability to stimulate pigment cells.


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