Total fat consumption was not found to increase the risk of skin cancer, but a high intake of polyunsaturated fat may be associated with increased risk for certain subtypes, according to a study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention

Dietary fat intake has been associated with various types of cancer in previous studies, including breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers, but data on the effect of fat consumption on skin cancer is lacking. 

For this study, researchers evaluated the outcomes of more than 170,000 participants in the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS) to determine the association between fat intake and skin cancer. Fat and other dietary intake was evaluated with the validated food-frequency questionnaire (FFQ) every 4 years. 

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Overall, 794 cases of melanoma, 2233 cases of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and 17,556 cases of basal cell carcinoma (BCC) were observed in the NHS, and 736, 1756, and 13,092 cases, respectively, were observed in the HPFS. 

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Results showed that a high intake of polyunsaturated fats — fats found in foods such as soybean, corn, and flax oil — increased the risk of SCC by 16% (P=.001) and BCC by 6% (P=.01). Higher intake levels of omega-6 fat were associated with melanoma, SCC, and BCC risk, and omega-3 fat intake was found to increase the risk of BCC, but not melanoma or SCC. 

Additionally, a higher intake of cholesterol was associated with a reduced risk of SCC and higher intake of monounsaturated fats was associated with a reduced risk of BCC. 

The authors concluded that “because there have been few experimental and epidemiologic studies of fat intake and skin cancer, our findings on certain types of fat and skin cancer need to be replicated and may motivate future studies.”


Park MK, Li WQ, Qureshi AA, Cho E. Fat intake and risk of skin cancer in U.S. adults[published online July 4, 2018].Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-17-0782