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Coffee may reduce risk of getting oral cancer

by Melody Chandler
Dec 12, 2012


Melody Chandler/MEDILL

Coffee may help you beat oral cancer, according to research reported by the American Cancer Society in the American Journal of Epidemiology.


Melody Chandler/MEDILL

Amounts of coffee men and women reported they drank as part of the Cancer Prevention Study II, conducted by the American Cancer Society.

Related Links

American Cancer Society: Cancer Prevention Study-3

Common signs of oral/pharyngeal cancer

Some of the symptoms of oral/pharyngeal cancer:

-A sore or lesion in the mouth that does not heal within two weeks.

-A lump or thickening in the cheek.

-A white or red patch on the gums, tongue, tonsil, or lining of the mouth.

-A sore throat or a feeling that something is caught in the throat.

-Difficulty chewing or swallowing.

-Difficulty moving the jaw or tongue.

-Numbness of the tongue or other area of the mouth.

-Swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable.

-Chronic hoarseness.

Listing provided by Martin Hogan, division director of dental medicine at the Loyola University Health System, the university's medical center.

Your morning cup of joe may be doing more than just waking you up. A study released this week by the American Cancer Society found that caffeinated coffee may reduce the risk of oral cancer. People in the study who drank more than four cups of caffeinated coffee a day were half as likely to die of oral/pharyngeal cancer as their counterparts who drank little to no coffee. 

The study, published in the current issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology, examined caffeinated coffee, decaffeinated coffee, and tea consumption with fatal oral/pharyngeal cancer as part of the Cancer Prevention Study II, the overall cancer study the American Cancer Society began in 1982.

The study was different from previous research because it looked at the risk of getting and dying from oral/pharyngeal cancer, rather than just the risk of being diagnosed with the cancers, said lead author and epidemiologist, Janet Hildebrand of the study.

Every year more than 30,000 new cases of cancer of the oral cavity and pharynx are diagnosed, and over 8,000 people with oral cancer die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Study participants included 968,432 men and women who were cancer-free at the time of enrollment. Of those, 868 died of oral/pharyngeal cancer at some point during the 26 years of follow-up.

And there was evidence that coffee might protect against oral cancer even for smokers and people who use alcohol.

“I think the important thing about this study is that they took into consideration a lot of different factors to try and be as specific as possible.  They focused on smoking and alcohol consumption and also factors such as educational background as well,” said Martin Hogan, division director of dental medicine at Loyola University Health System. 

“Our results strengthen the evidence for a possible protective benefit of coffee, and provide a little bit of good news to those who enjoy it on a daily basis,” said Hildebrand.

People in the study who drank more than four cups of caffeinated coffee a day were 49 percent less likely to die of oral/pharyngeal cancer compared to participants who drank little to no coffee.

The results for decaffeinated coffee were less definitive.

“In regard to decaffeinated coffee, we did find a lower risk estimate for greater than two cups per day decaf, but the estimate was only marginally statistically significant. Without compelling statistical evidence, we must be more cautious in how we interpret those findings. Nonetheless, we could not rule out a similarly protective benefit for decaf,” Hildebrand said. 

Hogan said that it is too early to say how effective coffee is in preventing oral cancer.

“I do not recommend that my patients drink coffee,” Hogan said. “I do not think there is enough scientific evidence over a long period of time to support this, however I do think this study is on the right track and I hope that they continue to research this topic.”

“I would agree with the results of the study that drinking coffee could potentially help, however at this time I do not recommend it to my patients,” Hogan said.

The American Cancer Society Cancer Prevention Study II is still ongoing. And enrollment for the latest general cancer study, Cancer Prevention Study-3 (CPS-3) is in progress, Hildebrand.

The study, which seeks 300,000 male and female participants of diverse racial backgrounds, “will provide a most significant resource for cancer research, particularly as it relates to prevention, for decades to come,” Hildebrand said. 

Until more results are out, coffee enthusiasts will have to wait and see if their beloved drink might have the double benefits of waking them up and preventing oral cancer.