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Study: Coffee Consumption Reduces Risk of Oral Cancer

  • Jessica Berman

Coffee is one of the most popular beverages around the world. Now comes word from a very large study of Americans that the stimulating drink might play a role in reducing the risk of oral / pharyngeal cancer, a particularly deadly form of the disease.

One of the many questions put to the 970,000 American men and women taking part in the 30-year-old Cancer Prevention Study involved their coffee-drinking habits. The researchers -- population study experts with the American Cancer Society -- say the study has found that participants who drank about four cups of coffee per day reduced their risk of oral/pharyngeal cancer by 49 percent, compared to those who drank little or no coffee per day.

Oral cancer and cancer of the pharynx, or upper part of the throat, are especially aggressive forms of the disease that are very hard to treat.

In the study, there were 868 deaths among the participants, some of whom smoked. So, according to study leader Janet Hildebrand, it appeared coffee did not have a protective effect.

Hildebrand, an epidemiologist and population expert with the American Cancer Society, says there was a proportionally higher risk of cancer among those who drank less of the hot beverage, compared to the cancer risk of those who consumed the most coffee each day.

“So it went down a little bit with each cup. And the lowest risk found was with four, five, six cups per day,” Hildebrand said.

Investigators found only a slight health benefit in drinking two decaffeinated cups of coffee, but no advantage was found among tea drinkers, although tea, particularly green tea, is known to have other health benefits.

Hildebrand says coffee is thought to contain other health-promoting substances besides caffeine.

“Two compounds for example have been studied for their anti-cancer properties and they have been found to possibly prevent cell replication and...prevent proliferation,” Hildebrand said.

Oral and pharyngeal cancer, although rare in the United States, are among the top 10 cancers worldwide. Study leader Janet Hildebrand says it would be interesting to find out whether coffee consumption leads to a better outcome among people who have already been diagnosed with the diseases.

The study describing how coffee consumption can reduce the risk of oral / pharyngeal cancer is published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.