The Mediterranean diet has been shown to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, and type 2 diabetes mellitus. A team of researchers in France, Belgium, and Greece set out to determine whether the diet – which consists largely of plant-based and nutrient-rich foods including fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and olive oil – might also reduce the risk of skin cancer.

The investigators sifted through data from the Etude Epidémiologique auprès de femmes de la Mutuelle Générale de l’Education Nationale (E3N), a prospective cohort of 98,995 French women aged 40 to 65 years at inclusion in 1990. Every 2 to 3 years, participants completed questionnaires about general and lifestyle characteristics and medical events. Dietary data were collected in 1993 via a validated food questionnaire. Adherence to the Mediterranean diet was assessed using a dietary score that assigns values from 0 to 9 points (minimum to maximum adherence) for the combined intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes, cereals, lipids, fish, dairy products, meat products, and alcohol.

The investigators identified 404 melanoma, 1367 basal cell carcinoma (BCC), and 232 squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) cases between 1993 and 2008. They found that adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with reduced risk of skin cancer (HR: 0.83; 95% CI: 0.73-0.93 for high compared with low score, Ptrend =.001). Adherence was inversely and linearly associated with risk of melanoma and BCC but not SCC.

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“These findings suggest that adherence to the [Mediterranean diet] is associated with a lower skin cancer risk in women, particularly melanoma and BCC,” the authors concluded. “If confirmed in future research, these findings may have important implications in skin cancer prevention.”

Reference

Mahamat-Saleh Y, Cervenka I, Al Rahmoun M, et al. Mediterranean dietary pattern and skin cancer risk: a prospective cohort study in French women [published online August 5, 2019]. Am J Clin Nutr. 2019;doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqz173