The study, which looked only at mice, showed that the consumption of fewer calories prevented the activation of two signalling pathways connected to the growth and development of cancer.
Conversely, a high-calorie, obesity-inducing diet activated the pathways, according to the study, presented at the American Association for Cancer Research's annual meeting in San Diego.
"These results, while tested in a mouse model of skin cancer, are broadly applicable to epithelial cancers in other tissues," said senior author John DiGiovanni, director of the department of carcinogenesis at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.
The researchers believe a high-calorie diet activates receptors on the skin cell's surface: epidermal growth factor and insulin-like growth factor. These two receptors in turn send signals, such as whether cells should divide and spread -- factors critical in the development of skin cancer.
In the case of low-calorie diets, the lack of signalling prevents the cells' growth and development.
The mice in the study had precancerous skin lesions called papillomas. They were divided into groups and fed four different diets: two with calorie reductions, one of 30% and the other of 15%, another in which 10% of calories came from fat, and one in which 60% of calories came from fat.
The mice stayed on the diets for 17 weeks.
The animals on the calorie-restricted diets had a significant reduction in the circulating levels of both cell surface receptors. The biggest drop in cell-surface receptors was in the group of mice in the 30% reduced calorie diet, with a 55% drop.
From the April 28, 2008, Prepared Foods e-Flash