Should You Believe the Coffee-Cancer Hype?

Study leads to talk of coffee’s cancer-fighting benefits
cup of coffee

The recent news that a large study found that coffee was linked to fewer oral cancer deaths has made a splash. Search “coffee and oral cancer” and you’ll find pages and pages of results leading to articles celebrating these results as proof that it’s healthy to drink coffee — and lots of it.

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A quick glance over your search might lead you to think that drinking several cups of caffeinated coffee a day reduces not only the risk of dying of oral cancer, but of even getting it.

The study’s findings may be good news for coffee lovers. But oncologist Tobenna Nwizu, MD, has a word of caution about the “link” to oral cancer deaths. He says that there is no proven cause-and-effect that coffee reduces mortality in oral cancer patients.

What the study found

The American Cancer Society conducted a questionnaire-based, 26-year observational study of nearly a million healthy people, beginning in 1982.

Studying those who had gotten oral or throat cancer over this period, researchers found the risk of death from oral cancer was lowered by 50 percent by those who drank four to six cups of coffee a day, compared to those who drank no caffeinated coffee.

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But wait …

“It’s all speculation,” says Dr. Nwizu. “It doesn’t mean coffee is good or bad for you. Correlation does not always mean causation.”

And it’s certainly no proof that coffee drinking should be used as cancer prevention strategy, as the authors of the study acknowledge.

The study only showed that people who drank coffee had a lower risk of dying from oral cancer. There was no mention of coffee decreasing the risk of getting oral cancer to begin with.

Dr. Nwizu also noted that the study was adjusted for smoking and alcohol consumption.

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Excessive smoking and alcohol consumption are still two major risk factors for oral and throat cancer.

The good news about coffee

By all means, enjoy your morning (and afternoon and evening) Joe. There are antioxidants in coffee that may be beneficial in preventing some cancers, as there are in many foods and drinks, though more studies need to be done.

Dr. Nwizu’s advice is to cut down on the risks factors known to cause oral cancer. Quit or cut back on the smoking and drinking.

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