NEW YORK (CBS NEWS) – To protect against skin cancer, doctors typically recommend smart sun habits such as wearing sunscreen or staying indoors during peak hours. A new study might add drinking coffee to the mix. A study of nearly 113,000 people has found that those who drink the most caffeinated coffee were least likely to develop basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer.

No decreased risk was associated with decaf.

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Basal cell carcinomas account for about 8 in 10 cases of skin cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. The slow-growing cancer typically develops in sun-exposed areas such as the head and neck. If left untreated, it can spread to nearby areas or invade tissues under the skin. “Given the large number of newly diagnosed cases, daily dietary changes having any protective effect may have an impact on public health,” study author Dr. Jiali Han, an associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard Medical School in Boston, said in a press release.

Han’s team determined about 22,800 people developed basal cell carcinoma during the 20-plus year follow-up portion of the study. People who drank more than three cups of coffee were 17 percent less likely to develop basal cell carcinoma, compared with those who drank less than one cup per month.

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After factoring in other skin cancer risk factors, such as hair color and sunburn history, the researchers determined that women who consumed the most caffeine were 18 percent less likely to develop basal cell carcinoma, and men were 13 percent less likely, compared with their counterparts who consumed the least.

A similar reduction in risk was observed in people who took in caffeine from other sources, such as cola and chocolate. “These results really suggest that it is the caffeine in coffee that is responsible for the decreased risk of basal cell carcinoma associated with increasing coffee consumption,” said Han.

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