Research links chemical in widely consumed foods to skin cancer   

The September cover story of the nation’s leading cancer journal, Cancer Research, features a new study from The Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota-Mayo Clinic, that links capsaicin, a component of chili peppers, to skin cancer.

    While the molecular mechanisms of the cancer-promoting effects of capsaicin are not clear and remain controversial, The Hormel Institute has shown a definite connection to formation of skin cancer through various laboratory studies.
    Dr. Ann Bode, professor in the Institute’s Cellular and Molecular Biology Research Section, led the research team on this study along with colleagues Dr. Mun Kyung Hwang and Dr. Zigang Dong, who is executive director of The Hormel Institute.
    Capsaicin, widely consumed worldwide in foods that contain chili peppers, is also used in topical creams for pain relief and its role in cancer development is controversial. Capsaicin has been shown to induce apoptosis (cell death) in cancer cells. However, research findings also have shown that it can also act as a carcinogen, especially at the tumor promotion stage.
    Bode, who serves as the Institute’s associate director, says the possibility that capsaicin induces inflammation and may affect cancer development is a critical result of the study.

    “Most notably, the results raise concerns that a natural compound found in hot peppers used in over-the-counter topical pain remedies might increase skin cancer risk,” Bode says.

    The study’s key findings include:

·         The co-carcinogenic effect of capsaicin appears to be mediated through the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and not the transient receptor potential vanilloid subfamily member 1 (TRPV1), a known pain receptor.

·         Topical application of capsaicin on the dorsal skin of wildtype or TRPV1 knockout mice induced tumors in both types but more and larger skin tumors in the knockout mice.

·         A known inflammatory enzyme, cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) was highly elevated following treatment with capsaicin.

    Other researchers working with Bode on the study included Drs. Sanguine Byun, Nu Ry Song, Hyong Joo Lee and Ki Won Lee. 

    The Hormel Foundation, National Cancer Institute and the Korean Research Foundation provided funding for the study.

    The Hormel Institute’s publishing record remains one of the top in the world.  In June 2009, The Hormel Institute’s research (Dr. Yong Yeon Cho and Dr. Zigang Dong) also was featured on the cover of Cancer Research, featuring a natural compound, known as kaempferol, that is highly abundant in green onions.



CONTACT:  Tim Ruzek, Communications Representative,

The Hormel Institute;

Office: 407.437.9601

Cell: 507.993.2518

 A photo of Dr. Ann Bode is available on The Hormel Institute’s website; if interested, photos/video could be taken of lab work
INTERVIEWS: Dr. Bode can be available for interviews on Tuesday, Sept. 7.


   In 2010,  Dr. Bode and Dr. Dong were notified that their research in the top cancer journal in the world, Nature Reviews Cancer (Oxford, England),  was the most cited paper in the field of Molecular Biology and Genetics from 2004-2009 (according to Thomson Reuters’ Essential Science Indicators).
    The Hormel Institute is a world-renowned cancer research center in Austin. Specializing in research leading to cancer prevention and control, it currently has 11 cancer research departments and 130 faculty and staff members.