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News / June 22, 2010

Coffee may protect against oral cancer

by Guy Hiscott

The results of a recent study add to the growing evidence that drinking coffee protects against cancer, this time against head and neck cancer.

Using information from a pooled analysis of nine studies collected by the International Head and Neck Cancer Epidemiology (INHANCE) consortium, participants who were regular coffee drinkers – that is, those who drank an estimated four or more cups a day – compared with those who were non-drinkers had a 39% decreased risk of oral cavity and pharynx cancers combined.

The association is more reliable among those who are frequent, regular coffee drinkers, consuming more than four cups of coffee a day. 

‘Since coffee is so widely used and there is a relatively high incidence and low survival rate of these forms of cancers, our results have important public health implications that need to be further addressed,’ said lead researcher Dr Mia Hashibe, assistant professor in the department of family and preventive medicine at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, and a Huntsman Cancer Institute investigator.

She continued: ‘What makes our results so unique is that we had a very large sample size, and since we combined data across many studies, we had more statistical power to detect associations between cancer and coffee.’

Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention editorial board member Johanna W Lampe PhD RD believes this current analysis by Dr Hashibe and colleagues provides strong, additional evidence for an association between caffeinated coffee drinking and cancer risk.

Dr Lampe commented: ‘The fact that this was seen for oral and pharyngeal cancers, but not laryngeal cancers, provides some evidence as to a possible specificity of effect.

‘These findings provide further impetus to pursue research to understand the role of coffee in head and neck cancer prevention.’

Additional research is warranted to characterise the importance of timing and duration of exposure and possible mechanisms of action, according to Dr Hashibe.

Full study results are published online at Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.