Link between coffee and cancer: what do studies say

March 16, 2020 4 min read

Link between coffee and cancer: what do studies say

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Please consult with your health care professional with any medical or health related questions.

Early 2018, the coffee-cancer connection was making the rounds, causing java regulars – almost two-thirds of Americans - to get all too jittery. 

There were reports saying that coffee may be carcinogenic or cancer-causing (“may” being the operative word here), following a California court ruling warning consumers about a chemical coming from the brewing/roasting process.

So what do us coffee-lovers need to know?

 

The coffee-cancer connection: what research shows

Thousands of studies have been done through the years to find if there’s any link between coffee and cancer. Here’s what some of them say:

 

After reviewing over 1,000 studies, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) found inadequate evidence suggesting coffee is cancer-causing, or carcinogenic. [1]

A 2016 review on the association between drinking coffee and cancer risk, done by an expert working group for the International Agency for Research on Cancer Monographs Programme, found “unclassifiable” evidence on coffee as a carcinogenic substance.

The review found that coffee does NOT cause female breast, pancreatic and prostate cancers. And for other types? The review wasn’t enough to make any conclusions. What’s interesting though is that the study also found that coffee may actually lower the risk of endometrium and liver cancers! [2]

Several recent studies also found no strong evidence of coffee linked to a higher risk of cancer nor cancer-related deaths. The conclusion: “Coffee consumption is not associated with overall cancer risk.” [3] In fact, these studies led the World Health Organization (WHO) to delist coffee from its list of carcinogens back in 2016.

A 2017 study found that having two cups of coffee every day may lower the risk for breast, colorectal, liver, head and neck cancers. [4]

Another 2017 study looked into various health outcomes following moderate coffee drinking and has found that coffee is generally safe. In fact, regular coffee intake may also lead to health benefits. [5]

After comparing results between the coffee and non-coffee drinking group, researchers have found that the former showed a lower rate of cancer than the latter. Specifically, coffee-drinkers had a lower risk of prostate, endometrial, melanoma and non-melanoma skin, oral, and leukemia. The study didn’t find strong associations between coffee consumption and cancer risk for gastric, colorectal, ovarian, thyroid, breast, pancreatic, laryngeal, and lymphoma. [6]

Do you know what’s interesting? The whole association of coffee with cancer may be traced back to older studies defining the stimulant as a carcinogen. Here’s the catch – recent ones have found that because most smokers also tend to love their cup of joe, the cause for cancer was often found to be smoking. 


What’s the real deal with acrylamide? Is it a cause for concern?

The recent point of contention about coffee possibly being carcinogenic stems from a California court ruling warning the public about a substance formed when coffee is roasted. Acrylamide is a chemical used in industrial processes and commercially available since the 50s. According to Cancer.org, it’s also present in French fries, toasted bread, junk foods like potato chips, crackers, biscuits, cookies, cereals, and tobacco products. [7]

Here’s the shocker - it’s also produced during coffee roasting.

According to Cancercenter.com, a California-based judged ruled that coffee sold in the said state should carry a cancer warning because of acrylamide, “listed among 900 chemicals that require warning labels under the state’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, known as Prop 65. [8, 9, 10]

BUT… 

The American Cancer Society (ACS) says that “most of the studies done so far have not found an increased risk of cancer in humans.” According to the ACS, more studies are needed.

So if you want to steer clear of acrylamide, you might as well swear off (or at least ease off) its sources like the junk and other foods mentioned earlier.

You can also find alternative forms for your caffeine fix like non-roasted coffee or caffeine mints.

 

Conclusion

There are several benefits to drinking coffee and its link to cancer risks is unfounded.

Research shows that there isn’t single strong evidence proving that coffee indeed causes cancer. And more studies are needed to prove that acrylamide, a substance formed from roasting coffee, may increase the risk for cancers.

In fact, some studies show – recent ones – say that coffee may even lower the risk of certain cancers.

The whole connection between coffee drinking and cancer deaths may have stemmed from older research, which are eventually found to have something to do more with smoking than regular java intake. Because most smokers love their cup of joe just as much, older studies may have something to do with this behavioral factor.

So scientific evidence does NOT strongly indicate coffee causes cancer. 

Now let’s rejoice with a cup of coffee – or a pop of caffeine mint!

 

Sources

[1] https://www.iarc.fr/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/pr244_E.pdf

[2] https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/coffee-and-cancer-what-the-research-really-shows.html

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28288025

[4] http://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/cebp/early/2017/07/27/1055-9965.EPI-17-0353.full.pdf

[5] https://www.bmj.com/content/359/bmj.j5024

[6] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322649.php

[7] https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/coffee-and-cancer-what-the-research-really-shows.html

[9] https://www.cancercenter.com/community/blog/2019/01/busting-myths-can-coffee-cause-cure-or-prevent-cancer

[10] https://oehha.ca.gov/proposition-65/law/proposition-65-law-and-regulations

Tina Sendin
Tina Sendin



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