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Study Suggests Coffee May Reduce Risk of Oral Cancer

Published: Thursday, December 13, 2012
Last Updated: Thursday, December 13, 2012
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A new study by the American Cancer Society finds a link between drinking coffee and reduced risk of death from oral/pharyngeal (mouth and throat) cancer.

People who drank more than 4 cups of caffeinated coffee a day were about half as likely to die from oral/pharyngeal cancer as people who drank coffee only occasionally or not at all. The study was published online December 10, 2012 in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

The researchers analyzed coffee and tea consumption among people enrolled in the Cancer Prevention Study II, a prospective US cohort study begun in 1982 by the American Cancer Society. Among 968,432 men and women who were cancer-free at enrollment, 868 died from oral/pharyngeal cancer during 26 years of follow-up. Drinking more than 4 cups of caffeinated coffee a day was linked to a 49% lower risk of oral/pharyngeal cancer death compared to drinking no coffee or only an occasional cup. No significant link was found for decaffeinated coffee, and no link at all for tea.

Previous studies have also suggested that coffee is associated with a reduced risk of oral/pharyngeal cancer. Coffee contains antioxidants, polyphenols, and other compounds that may help to protect against development or progression of cancer. Still, the strongest risk factors for oral/pharyngeal cancer are tobacco and alcohol use. Most people with oral/pharyngeal cancer use tobacco. Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection has also been linked to this cancer, especially in non-smokers. The number of oral/pharyngeal cancer cases linked to HPV has risen dramatically over the past few decades.

Often, oral/pharyngeal cancer does not cause symptoms until it’s reached an advanced stage, or it may cause symptoms similar to those caused by something that isn’t cancer, such as a toothache. The most common symptom is a sore in the mouth that does not heal. Another very common symptom is pain in the mouth that doesn’t go away. To find this cancer early, some dentists and doctors recommend that you look at your mouth in a mirror every month to check for any abnormal areas. This type of cancer can sometimes be found early during routine exams by a dentist, doctor, or dental hygienist.

Lead author Janet Hildebrand, MPH, said, “We are not recommending people all drink 4 cups of coffee a day. This is just a little bit of good news for those of us who enjoy coffee. There may be some other effects of coffee that may prevent people with certain conditions from drinking a lot of caffeine. This study is about just one cancer site among many. There needs to be much more consistent research before we can support the conclusion that coffee should be consumed for cancer prevention.”

Hildebrand and her colleagues plan to study the risk of cancer incidence and coffee consumption among a more diverse population in the Cancer Prevention Study - 3. The American Cancer Society hopes to enroll at least 300,000 adults from various racial/ethnic backgrounds from across the US for this new cohort study to help researchers better understand how to prevent cancer.

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