Dreaming of that burger and fries, or a few beers, at the beach this summer?
Think again, because high-fat foods, as well as alcohol, could boost the risk of skin cancer.
And skin cancer strikes people young and old. A recent Mayo Clinic study found a dramatic rise in skin cancer for people under 40 years old. [a]
Cutting the Fat in Texas
A study done at Baylor University in Texas found that people who decrease their consumption of fat by about 40% had a reduction in skin cancer incidence of almost 50% .
The Baylor study is important because it was a placebo-controlled clinical trial, not just an observational study. Cutting out fried foods and vegetable oils and substituting lean meat, skinless poultry, fish and fat-free dairy products for their higher fat counterparts allowed the study’s participants to reduce dietary fat to about 21% of calories. If they can cut the fat in Texas, anyone can.
The Baylor researchers were looking at the two most common types of skin cancer, basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer. These are the most common cancers in the world, affecting about 1 in 5 people and increasing.
Melanoma Risk Also Influenced By Diet
Melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, is also increasing, at the alarming rate of 3% per year in the United States. At present 1 person in 58 will develop melanoma. In 1930, the rate of melanoma in the U.S. was just 1 in 1500. In other words, the rate went up twenty-five times since 1930.
A case-controlled study from the National Cancer Institute found that consumption of alcohol and vegetable oils increased the risk of melanoma, whereas vegetables, fish, fruit and whole grains decreased risk .
The increased risk of melanoma with increasing alcohol consumption has been demonstrated in several studies, including those that found no other dietary effect [3,4]. Increased risk appears to start at more than 2 drinks per day.
Mediterranean Diet May Reduce Risk of Melanoma
Observational studies in Italy and Greece found that following a Mediterranean diet was associated with significant reduction in melanoma incidence [5,6].
Compared to the standard American diet, the Mediterranean diet is low in red meat, poultry, processed foods and most vegetable oils and high in olive oil, vegetables, fruit and fish. 
More Olive Oil or Advil
In the Italian study, tea consumption also appeared to be beneficial.
What Sunlight Causes
Sunlight causes different types of cancer through different mechanisms.
Basal cell and squamous cell cancers result from cumulative low level skin damage. The more time you spend in the sun, the greater your risk.
Melanoma results from sunburn.
Remember: the sun is strongest in late June. Its intensity in May is the same as in August and you are more likely to burn in late spring than in late summer.
Research indicates that sunscreens with SPF of 15+ may help decrease the incidence of basal cell and squamous cell cancers.
Sunscreens may only be effective at helping prevent melanoma if used daily and if they contain broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays.
A study from sub-tropical Australia  and another from Minnesota  found about a 50% reduction in melanoma incidence with regular daily sunscreen use.
Some researchers believe that haphazard use of sunscreens may increase melanoma risk by increasing the likelihood of burns .
Physical sun barriers such as long sleeves, long pants, and hats are another method of reducing exposure to the sun, but depend upon the type of fabric and the coverage.
Drugs Can Increase Sunburn
Many drugs can increase sun damage through a phenomenon called photosensitivity. These drugs are known as photosensitizers and they increase the likelihood that you will burn when exposed to sunlight. Examples include pain relievers like ibuprofen and naproxen and antibiotics like doxycycline and ciprofloxacin.
Because it can be difficult to find information on a drug’s potential to cause photosensitivity, always ask your pharmacist. For additional information on photosensitivity I created a free online resource on hundreds of drugs here at pilladvised.com. Enter the drug name and look for the interactions with food and sun information.
If you’re taking low-dose aspirin, there is an interesting Dutch study, that found continuous use of low dose aspirin produced a 46% reduction in melanoma incidence in women; there was no effect in men .
Take sun protection seriously and be especially careful to avoid sunburn. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen, with both UVA and UVB protection.
Limit consumption of alcohol and fat. Avoid vegetable oils, with the exception of virgin olive oil. Eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day (more is better). Measures that are good for your heart can also protect your skin.
Know whether any medication you take can increase your risk of burning. Always ask your pharmacist.
Now I’d like to hear from you:
Do you spend time outdoors?
Have you had any type of skin cancer?
How do you protect yourself from sun exposure?
Please let me know your thoughts by posting a comment below.
Leo Galland, MD
Spread the Health by forwarding this article to your friends and family, and sharing on Facebook.
References and Further Reading
[a] “Increasing Incidence of Melanoma Among Young Adults: An Epidemiological Study in Olmsted County, Minnesota” Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Volume 87, Issue 4 , Pages 328-334, April 2012, The study was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health. Other authors include Kurtis Reed, M.D., Christine Lohse, Kariline Bringe, Crystal Pruitt, and Lawrence Gibson, M.D. all of Mayo Clinic.
 “Role of Dietary Factors in the Development of Basal Cell Cancer and Squamous Cell Cancer of the Skin” Sarah A. McNaughton1, Geoffrey C. Marks1 and Adele C. Green. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev July 2005 14; 1596.
 “Diet and Melanoma in a Case-Control Study Cancer .” Amy E. Millen, Margaret A. Tucker, Patricia Hartge, et al. Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2004;13:1042-1051.
 “Case-control study of malignant melanoma in Washington State. II. Diet, alcohol, and obesity.” Kirkpatrick CS, White E, Lee JA. Am J Epidemiol. 1994 May 1;139(9):869-80
 “Diet and risk of cutaneous malignant melanoma: a prospective study of 50,757 Norwegian men and women.” Veierød MB, Thelle DS, Laake P. Int J Cancer. 1997 May 16;71(4):600-4
 “A protective effect of the Mediterranean diet for cutaneous melanoma.” Fortes C, Mastroeni S, Melchi F, Pilla MA, Antonelli G, Camaioni D, Alotto M, Pasquini P. Int J Epidemiol. 2008 Oct;37(5):1018-29
 “Nutritional approach to sun protection: a suggested complement to external strategies.” Shapira N.Nutr Rev. 2010 Feb;68(2):75-86
 Full Text: “Diet and Inflammation” Leo Galland, MD, Nutr Clin Pract December 7, 2010 vol. 25 no. 6 634-640
 “Reduced melanoma after regular sunscreen use: randomized trial follow-up.” Green AC, Williams GM, Logan V, Strutton GM. J Clin Oncol. 2011 Jan 20;29(3):257-63. Epub 2010 Dec 6.
 “Melanoma risk in relation to use of sunscreen or other sun protection methods.” Lazovich D, Vogel RI, Berwick M, Weinstock MA, Warshaw EM, Anderson KE. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2011 Dec;20(12):2583-93.
 “Sunscreen and melanoma: is our prevention message correct?” Planta MB. J Am Board Fam Med. 2011 Nov;24(6):735-9.
 Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and melanoma risk: large Dutch population-based case-control study.Joosse A, Koomen ER, Casparie MK, Herings RM, Guchelaar HJ, Nijsten T. J Invest Dermatol. 2009 Nov;129(11):2620-7