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This Surprising Food Could Be Leaving You at Risk for Melanoma, New Study Suggests

This unexpected link could change the way you think about food.
FACT CHECKED BY Kristen Warfield

You may know that there are links between the foods and drinks you consume and different kinds of cancers.

For instance, red meat has been linked with higher colorectal cancer risk, and alcoholic beverages have been connected to higher risk of breast cancer, while cauliflower could help lower your chance of getting liver cancer.

Now, new research suggests that eating more fish is linked with a higher risk of melanoma.

In the study, published earlier this month in the journal Cancer Causes & Control, researchers compared data about fish consumption and melanoma incidence for nearly 500,000 participants in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study. They found that greater fish intake, the greater the risk of malignant melanoma and of melanoma in situ (also known as stage 0 melanoma). This correlation was true for eating fish in general as well as for eating tuna and non-fried fish, while oddly, fried fish intake was actually linked to a lower risk of malignant melanoma.

Still, you should certainly not take the findings of this study as an indication that you should cut fish out of your diet. The relationships between any food you may eat and your health are multi-faceted, and this one correlation shouldn't be the deciding factor, experts say.

raw tuna on cutting board

"This article is not saying that higher consumption of fish causes cancer. It is saying that increased consumption of fish is associated with cancer," Sydney Greene, RDN, a member of the Eat This, Not That! medical review board, explains. "In addition, it is important to note that some of the individuals in this study engaged in known cancer-causing behaviors such as cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption."

Moreover, she noted that there were some key metrics that the study did not take into account when looking at participants' melanoma risk including matters such as how many moles a person has and whether they have a history of severe sunburns. One can easily imagine, for instance, someone who might eat a lot of fish because they live by the water, and that same person might spend a lot of time in direct sunlight.

Additionally, the benefit and risk calculations when eating any food are too complex to be simplified to one single correlation. Greene pointed out, for instance, that fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids can help combat chronic inflammation, while eating fish that are high in mercury could be leaving you at greater risk for cancers.

"Food categories are nuanced and we cannot determine one food category, like fish, should or should not be avoided," she said.

Similarly, Julie Upton, MS, RD., also a member of our medical expert board, notes that the study's key finding "appears to be very counter-intuitive." She added that the benefits of eating fish have a larger body of research supporting them.

"More research is needed, because most studies show that eating fish is one of the best ways to improve overall health and well being," Upton said. "The Mediterranean diet, for example, is considered a gold-standard for health, and seafood is a main source of protein in the eating pattern."

For more evidence-backed benefits of eating fish, check out these 20 Reasons You Should Be Eating More Fish.

Clara Olshansky
Clara Olshansky (they/she) is a Brooklyn-based writer and comic whose web content has appeared in Food & Wine, Harper’s Magazine, Men's Health, and Reductress. Read more about Clara
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