Coffee could greatly cut cancer risk, research says

A 16-ounce cup filled with four shots of espresso, cream and ice sat in front of Nate Rugh on Monday at Metro A Coffeehouse and Pub as he watched Spain play Honduras in the World Cup on television.


"I'd rather drink this than an energy drink," he said. "I'd rather go with something more natural."

And potentially more protective. A study published online today in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention found that people who consume four or more cups of coffee a day had a nearly 40 percent lower risk of head and neck cancers.

A Medical College of Georgia researcher not involved in the study, however, cautioned against reading too much into those results.

Data on coffee and cancer have produced mixed results, with some studies pointing to a link to cancer that others didn't find.

The American Cancer Society answers the question this way: "There does not appear to be any link between coffee drinking and cancer risk."

In the study, Dr. Mia Hashibe and colleagues did a "pooled analysis" of nine studies that included data on coffee and head and neck cancers. Those who drank at least four cups of coffee a day had a 39 percent lower risk of developing head and neck cancer.

The study speculates that the anti-cancer effect might be a result of compounds called phenols found in some coffee, but the researchers have no way of knowing what specifically the participants drank, said Hashibe, an assistant professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at the University of Utah and an investigator with the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

"We're not able to really look at the specific components that are important," she said. "But I hope there might be some follow-up studies after this that could look into that more closely. It would be interesting to see which types of coffee this is important for because there are just so many types of coffee, with drip coffee versus espresso."

The study participants ranged from the U.S. to Europe to Puerto Rico, so a wide range of coffees and coffee habits were included, Hashibe said.

Though the study is "well-intentioned," drawing the conclusion that coffee drinking is protective against these cancers is "probably a little bit too strong," said Dr. Kalu U.E. Ogbureke, an assistant professor of oral biology and pathology at Medical College of Georgia. "What it does to the layperson out there is to say 'Well, if I just drink more coffee, that will be it.' In fact, the danger here is people with risk factors that would rely very much on this, which might turn out to be false hope."

As Hashibe said, the study should be more of a "primer" for other well-controlled studies looking at this effect, and taking into account other factors such as smoking and alcohol use, Ogbureke said.