More than two million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer each year, making it the most common form of cancer in the United States. There’s a lot of focus on prevention– sunscreen, staying out of direct sunlight. Now researchers are on the trail of another possible preventative measure.
A recent study on mice at Rutgers University in New Jersey has yielded results that might apply to humans. Surgery to remove body fat made the mice significantly less susceptible to skin cancer caused by UV radiation. That means that mice who had the surgery were able to more safely be in sunlight. The study found the mice had 75 percent less tumor activity than mice who had not had fat surgically removed.
The study grew out of research into the effects of caffeine and exercise on cancer risk. Caffeine and exercise both reduce tissue fat, though the cells themselves remain. Coffee consumption has been shown to reduce cancer risk in people, but the exact mechanism is still being investigated. This result suggests the fat-reducing properties of caffeine may be part of the explanation, though not all of it.
The result only held with mice on a high-fat diet, suggesting that even if it does work in humans, a balanced diet actually would not confer the same benefits. Mice on a low-fat diet who underwent the surgery showed no difference in risk. Researchers believe this is likely to be due to abdominal fat producing a chemical that raises the risk of cancer; after it is removed, the fat tissue replacing it doesn’t create this compound. It is known that certain types of fat, when included in the diet, have cancer-preventing properties.
Although tumor formation in mice is analogous in some ways to the process in humans, the lead researcher warns that no firm conclusions about the effects of fat removal in humans. Moreover, this does not speak to the effects of other weight loss or fat reduction techniques.
“It would be interesting to see if surgical removal of fat tissue in animals would prevent obesity-associated lethal cancers like those of the pancreas, colon and prostate,” said the scientist, Dr. Allan Conney. “Whether removal of tissue fat in humans which has certain risks would decrease the risk of life-threatening cancers in humans is not known.”