Low-fat diets and skin cancer

The results of a study conducted at Baylor University indicate that reducing dietary fat may allay the development of precancerous skin lesions.

The Baylor researchers randomly assigned 76 patients who had had either basal-cell or squamous-cell skin cancer to one of two groups. One group was instructed to continue to follow their customary diets, which on average derived 40% of calories from fat. The other group was asked to reduce dietary fat to 20% of calories. Both groups kept detailed records of the food they consumed, and underwent skin examinations every 4 months for 2 years.

At the end of that time, the group on the high-fat diet had an average of 10 new actinic keratoses -- the scaly lesions that can eventually become malignant -- and 0.54 new skin cancers per person. By comparison, those on the low-fat diet had an average of only three new keratoses and 0.38 new skin cancers. The results, which were published in the May 5, 1994, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, supported earlier findings in animals and provided further evidence of a connection between dietary fat and cancer.

Although the study was too small to establish a firm link between high-fat diets and skin lesions, it deserves serious consideration. If the results are duplicated in larger investigations, we'll have one more reason to cut down on fat.

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