—by Jeff Jurmain, MA
The list of potential health benefits for coffee seems to grow longer with each passing day. On this day, let’s take aim at its potential help against cancer. This time, amid the brewing evidence that coffee could deflect tumors, a new study looked at head and neck cancers.
The study is published online in the journal “Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.”
Using information from nine different studies, they found that regular coffee drinkers had a 39% reduced risk of oral and pharynx cancers combined, compared to non-coffee drinkers. A “regular” coffee indulger had an estimated four or more cups a day. This runs along the same line as other studies that have found additional health benefits (most notably for diabetes) the more coffee one consumes each day.
Data on decaffeinated coffee was too sparse for detailed analysis, but seemed to show no real effect on cancer risk. As for tea, it was not at all associated with head and neck cancer risk. As noted, the reduced cancer risk is most reliable among the frequent coffee drinkers, those who pour at least four cups a day. And, in our java-fuelled society, the number of people who do so is not limited.
This new study is unique in that it has a very large sample size of people, with so many different studies involved. This helps increase the power of statistics so that more accurate conclusions can be drawn. And since coffee is so widely used and since there is a relatively high incidence of head and neck cancers, the researchers believe this may have important public health implications.
At a major meeting last December, Harvard researchers showed a strong link between coffee consumption and a reduced risk of fatal prostate cancers. Men drinking the most coffee had a 60% lower risk of aggressive prostate cancer than men who didn’t drink coffee.
More recently, another study tied coffee to reduced brain tumor risk. This association was found among those who drank five or more cups of coffee or tea a day, according to London researchers.
The new findings provide further important reasons to study the role of coffee in head and neck cancer prevention. How is coffee doing it; what effect does it have on our systems that would help reduce the risk for cancer?
While we await insight into these questions, if you do enjoy coffee, sit back and relax. Just don’t use too much sugar or cream.