Coffee and Cancer of the Head and Neck

July 28th, 2010 | Sources: Cancer Epi. Bio. & Prev., MSNBC

Could coffee stave off more than just fatigue? A new study suggests that might be the case. Heavy coffee drinkers, it turns out, have a lower incidence of head and neck cancers, according to the study, which was published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

Coffee BreakTo reach these conclusions, Mia Hashibi and colleagues pooled results from 9 previous studies which looked at coffee and tea drinking, as well as rates of head and neck cancers. In those studies, the behaviors of cancer patients were compared with either the general population or to patients that were hospitalized for reasons other than cancer.

The scientists found that people who drank coffee had a 12% lower risk of developing head and neck cancers than those who didn’t, after controlling for several factors including cigarette smoking. In addition, the scientists found an inverse correlation between the amount of coffee consumed and the risk of cancer: for people who drank at least 4 cups per day, the risk was cut by more than one third.

Head and neck cancer is relatively rare, affecting only about 1 in 10,000 people per year. It is known to be associated with alcohol intake and cigarette smoking.

Hashibi’s group noted that the association doesn’t prove that coffee protects against cancer of the head and neck. Other factors associated with coffee drinking could be driving the association. Alternatively, people with the disease might have reduced their coffee consumption for some reason.

There are several mechanisms by which coffee might be protective, although they are all speculative at this point.

“Coffee contains more than a thousand chemicals,” wrote the authors, including compounds like cafestol and kahweol which are thought to protect DNA from the damaging effects of certain carcinogens.


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