In a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers analysed whether coffee can protect against cutaneous melanoma: malignant melanoma and melanoma in situ.Tetra Pak/Flickr

Coffee may have a better role to play than keeping one fresh and alert throughout the day. A new study from the Oxford University Press says that the popular beverage can help reduce the risk of getting malignant melanoma.

Melanoma is a skin cancer that starts in the cells that produce the melanin pigment. It is normally identified through visible changes in size, shape or colour of a mole. It is very rare and spreads faster than non-melanoma skin cancers.

In a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers analysed whether coffee can protect against cutaneous melanoma.

The study looked at coffee consumption among 4,47,357 cancer-free non-Hispanic white people part of the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study. The participants completed a food questionnaire between 1995 and 1996; and were closely monitored for the next 10 years.

Some other factors like Body Mass Index (BMI), age, sex, alcohol intake, smoking, ultraviolet radiation exposure and physical activity were also taken into consideration.

Risk of malignant melanoma came down with an increase in the number of coffees a person took every day.

"The highest category of coffee intake was inversely associated with malignant melanoma," the authors wrote.

Consumption of four or more cups of coffee reduced the risk of malignant melanoma by 20%. However, only caffeinated coffees had these protective effects.

Researchers assumed that certain bio-active compounds in coffee may have given the anti-cancer effect.

"Higher coffee intake was associated with a modest decrease in risk of melanoma in this large US cohort study," the authors wrote while concluding their study.

The world witnesses 1,32,000 melanoma skin cancers and two to three million non-melanoma skin cancers every year. Prolonged exposure to sun's ultraviolet radiation, through sunbathing or living in a sunny area, is known to cause DNA damages in skin's pigment cells and increase the risk of skin cancers.

Coffee has scientifically been proven effective in protecting against gum diseases, diabetes, liver cancer, Alzheimer's disease and also has been shown to improve long-term memory.