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Caffeine & Skin Cancer

September 21, 2011

Caffeine may protect against skin cancer by inhibiting an enzyme that cancer cells need.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Can caffeine fight skin cancer?  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Most people think of caffeine as just a stimulant, but the chemical has other effects as well. For instance, caffeine consumption has also been linked to reduced rates of skin cancer. Now, University of Washington dermatologist Paul Ngheim and his colleagues may have found a reason.  Previously, they gave caffeine to mice, either orally or topically.  Either way, it lowered skin cancer risk, and also suppressed an enzyme called ATR, which is critical in cell division.

PAUL NGHEIM (University of Washington):

What we didn’t know for sure is if that was the relevant thing, of the many effects caffeine would have. 

HIRSHON:

To find out, they engineered mice with ATR-deficient skin.  Sure enough, these mice were less susceptible to skin cancer than normal mice.  Ngheim notes that caffeine also blocks UV rays directly, so it might prove to be a doubly useful additive to sunscreens.  I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.