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News / December 18, 2008

A coffee a day keeps mouth cancer at bay

by Guy Hiscott

A cup of coffee a day could nearly halve the risk of cancers affecting the mouth and throat, according to new research.
Japanese scientists who tracked patients’ drinking habits for 13 years found those downing at least one cup a day were much less likely to get tumours than those who hardly ever drank coffee.

The findings, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, suggest a daily dose of caffeine could offset some of the risk from alcohol and tobacco – the main causes of such cancers.

Previous studies have produced mixed results on whether coffee has a protective effect and have felt that it adds to the risk.

But in the latest investigation, experts at the Tohoku University School of Medicine in Japan, concluded certain chemicals found in caffeine protect the body’s DNA against damage that can lead to cancer.

According to Cancer Research UK, mouth cancer kills around 1,600 people a year in Britain and cancer of the oesophagus another 7,400.

Smoking and excessive drinking are the key culprits in both types of tumours because they contain damaging chemicals called nitrosamines.

To see if coffee offered any protection, researchers studied nearly 40,000 people aged 40 to 64 over a 13-year period.

During that time, 157 of the volunteers developed mouth or gullet cancer.

When researchers analysed their diet and lifestyle, they found those drinking at least one coffee every day were 49% less likely to be affected than those who rarely or never drank.

In a report on the results, they said: ‘One of the most significant findings was the inverse association between coffee and those at high risk of these cancers, namely current drinkers and smokers.

‘Although quitting alcohol and smoking is the best known way to help reduce the risk, coffee could be a preventive factor.’