Go ahead; enjoy that morning cup of coffee. A new study suggests that people who are in the habit of drinking coffee regularly may be protected against malignant melanoma, the leading cause of skin-cancer death in the United States.
People in the study who drank four or more cups of coffee daily were 20 percent less likely to develop malignant melanoma than non-coffee drinkers, according to the study.
Of course, the findings don't give you license to fire up the coffee and then spend your day lounging in the sun without any sunscreen. The best way to prevent skin cancer remains avoiding sun exposure and ultraviolet radiation, said studies.
"Our results, and some from other recent studies, should provide reassurance to coffee consumers that drinking coffee is not a risky thing to do," Loftfield told Live Science in an email. "However, our results do not indicate that individuals should alter their coffee intake."
Previous studies had found hints that drinking coffee might be linked to lower rates of no melanoma skin cancers, but the findings were mixed when researchers looked at coffee and melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Melanomas arise from pigment cells in the skin called melanocytes. According to the National Cancer Institute, 76,100 new cases were diagnosed in the United States in 2014, and 9,710 people died of the disease.
Loftfield and her team pulled data from a huge study run jointly by the National Institutes of Health and the American Association of Retired Persons, which tracked 447,357 retirees over 10 years, on average. Ultimately, in this group, there were 2,904 cases of malignant melanoma which is a cancer that has spread beyond the top layer of the skin, and 1,874 cases of early-stage melanoma, which remains only on the top layer of the skin.
"Our study is the largest to date to evaluate this relationship" between melanoma and coffee drinking, Loftfield said.
The participants reported their coffee consumption as well as other factors that might influence their cancer risk, including exercise, alcohol intake and body-mass index. To estimate people's UV exposure, the researchers used NASA data on the amount of sunlight in each participant's hometown.
After the researchers controlled the other factors, coffee drinking turned out to be a boon: There were 55.9 cases of melanoma yearly per 100,000 people among those who drank at least four cups a day, versus 77.64 cases yearly per 100,000 people among the people who didn’t drink coffee, the researchers wrote.