Mediterranean diet may halve risk of skin cancer

In collaboration with the Press Association

People who follow a traditional Mediterranean diet may significantly reduce their risk of malignant melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, Italian scientists have said.

The Mediterranean diet is characterised by olive oil, vegetables, fruits, fish and nuts and is increasingly being held up as one of the best examples of a healthy diet.

A team of researchers at the Dermopathic Institute of the Immaculate in Rome noted that while many studies have investigated the Mediterranean diet for its ability to protect against cancer, none have looked at melanoma skin cancer.

They carried out a study of 609 hospital patients, 304 of whom had melanoma skin cancer, and recorded information on their social status, medical history, smoking status, history of sun exposure, skin type and diet.

They found that a high consumption of vegetables - particularly carrots, leafy and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli - and fruits was associated with a decreased risk of melanoma skin cancer.

Daily tea drinking and weekly consumption of fish and shellfish also appeared to have a protective effect against the disease.

Publishing their findings in the International Journal of Epidemiology, the researchers concluded: "Overall, our findings suggest that some dietary factors present in the Mediterranean diet might protect from cutaneous melanoma."

The findings may help to explain why populations in Mediterranean countries tend to have lower levels of skin cancer than those in northern Europe, the US and Australia.

However, Dr Jodie Moffat, health information officer at Cancer Research UK, told the Sunday Telegraph: "By far the greatest risk factor is excessive sun exposure. People can reduce their risk of developing melanoma by enjoying the sun safely and taking care not to burn."