Coffee and Cancer: Is There a Link?

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coffee, cancer, links

You might remember earlier this year when a Los Angeles judge ruled in favor of putting a cancer warning on coffee sold throughout California. If you’re like us, you probably started wondering about the cancer risk associated with your morning coffee.

Is coffee going to give me cancer?

Should I stop drinking it?

What is life without coffee?

These are valid questions, and we wanted to get to the bottom of them STAT. We sat down with Jane Figueiredo, PhD, researcher at the Cedars-Sinai Center for Integrated Research on Cancer and Lifestyle, to get answers.

What do we know about the link between cancer and drinking coffee?

Figueiredo: In 2016, more than 1,000 studies were reviewed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to determine if drinking coffee increased cancer risk. In the end, the IARC could not conclude that drinking coffee increases cancer risk and deemed the risk “unclassifiable.”

However, many studies have shown reduced risk of developing certain cancers in coffee drinkers. There are many compounds in coffee that could be responsible for increasing or decreasing risk.

“There are many other modifiable lifestyle factors that you could change that would more substantially lower your risk of cancer, including quitting smoking, exercising, and eating a healthy diet.”

Two years ago, the World Health Organization removed coffee from its “possible carcinogen” list, so why is California now mandating coffee come with a cancer warning?

Figueiredo: Coffee contains acrylamide, which is produced during the bean roasting process. The IARC considers acrylamide a “probable carcinogen” largely based on animal studies, but large observational studies, systematic reviews, and analyses of human studies have showed that dietary acrylamide is not related to the risk of most common cancers.

Some have reported modest associations for rarer cancers, like kidney, endometrial, and ovarian cancers, but overall there isn’t a lot of concrete evidence at this point to suggest acrylamide increases cancer risk in humans. This is an active area of research.


Read: Lifestyle and Cancer: Understanding the Connection


Could coffee lower my risk of cancer?

Figueiredo: Coffee has been linked to decreased risk of ovarian, thyroid, breast, and several other non-GI cancers. My research has focused on colon cancer, and we have seen that coffee has been associated with lower cancer risk in many GI track cancers, including colon, liver, and pancreatic cancer.

There is also evidence that coffee may help reduce risk of Parkinson’s disease, heart failure, type 2 diabetes, and it has anti-inflammatory properties as well.

Overall, should people be worried about drinking coffee?

Figueiredo: Research shows there could be many potential benefits of coffee. We don’t have evidence that there is an increased risk of cancer, but we can’t definitively say there is no risk. There are many other modifiable lifestyle factors that you could change that would more substantially lower your risk of cancer, including quitting smoking, exercising, and eating a healthy diet.

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