How Heavy Coffee Drinking Impacts Cancer

Oral and throat cancer mortality risks lower in heavy coffee drinkers

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Why just have one cup of coffee when you can drink far more of the almost-no-calorie wake-up drink? If you enjoy several morning – or evening – cups of Joe, your habit may improve your chances against certain cancers.

People who drank four cups of full-throttle coffee were about half as likely to die of mouth or throat cancer as occasional or never coffee drinkers. That’s what a new study uncovered.

But while this may be good for your oral cancer health, a dentist suggests heavy coffee drinking isn’t the answer.

"Drink coffee responsibly."

Lead study author, Janet Hildebrand, MPH, said in a statement, “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.”

Researchers found that among all the participants who didn’t have cancer at the time they enrolled in the study, 868 individuals died of oral/ pharyngeal (mouth/throat) cancer. People who drank four cups of coffee had a 49 percent lower mortality risk.

That means that the participants had a 0.0009 percent (868 ÷ 968,432) absolute percent of dying from this cancer. So heavy coffee drinkers had a 0.00044 percent risk.

No association was found with decaffeinated coffee or tea.

But a dentist who helps with the diagnosis and treatment of oral cancers, doesn’t recommend his patients drink coffee, which is known to damage tooth enamel.

“As with any study, there are always variables that are not documented, such as alcohol consumption and tobacco use, which are top causes of oral cancer,” said Martin Hogan, DDS, of the Loyola University Health System, who works with oral cancer patients.

Dr. Hogan points out the biggest risk factors for mouth and throat cancers are drinking alcohol, smoking, and using snuff or chewing tobacco. There are other important risk factors, including human papillomavirus (HPV – especially strain 16), and fungi that can contribute to oral cancers. Exposure to ultraviolet radiation and X-rays can also increase odds of these cancers developing.

The problem with oral cancers, according to Dr. Hogan, is they don’t usually get diagnosed when they can be successfully treated.

“Oral cancer signs range from chronic sores in the mouth that do not heal to difficulty swallowing, and many patients do not think they are a big enough deal to seek medical attention,” Dr. Hogan said in a statement.

Oral cancers have been on the rise over the last several decades. Today, an estimated 40,250 adults in America were diagnosed with these cancers in 2012, and about 7,850 individuals succumbed to them.

Hildebrand acknowledged that this study is just the beginning, “There needs to be much more consistent research before we can support the conclusion that coffee should be consumed for cancer prevention.”

The American Cancer Society teased out these figures from the huge Cancer Prevention Study II that started in 1982, which involved 968,432 individuals.

The coffee research was published December 9 in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 17, 2012
Last Updated:
April 11, 2013