Coffee drinkers might have an edge against colon cancer, new research suggests.
A study published in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Oncology found that having a few cups of coffee a day was associated with longer survival and a lower risk of cancer progression in patients with colorectal cancer.
Researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston found that, of 1,171 people treated for metastatic colorectal cancer, those who reported drinking two to three cups of coffee a day were likely to live longer overall and had a longer time before their disease worsened than those who didn’t drink coffee.
Participants who drank larger amounts of coffee — more than four cups a day — had an even greater benefit.
And the benefits were found with caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee.
“It’s known that several compounds in coffee have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and other properties that may be active against cancer,” says Chen Yuan, study co-author and research fellow at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Colon cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in the United States and one that is increasingly affecting young Americans, and took the life of 43-year-old actor Chadwick Boseman, star of movies including “Black Panther.”
Dr. Scott Kopetz, a professor of gastrointestinal medical oncology at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, said more is known about the role of antioxidants and its properties in early cancer development than regarding established and metastatic disease.
Study authors noted that the report was only able to find an association, not a cause-and-effect relationship. Experts say the study doesn’t provide sufficient evidence to recommend drinking coffee on a daily basis for people who have cancer.
“Although it is premature to recommend a high intake of coffee as a potential treatment for colorectal cancer, our study suggests that drinking coffee is not harmful and may potentially be beneficial,” said Dr. Kimmie Ng, study senior author and an oncologist at Dana-Farber.
Kopetz said there could be a number of factors that weren’t measured by the study. For example, cancer patients are less likely to drink coffee if they have severe gastrointestinal symptoms that might suggests a more advanced disease.
Marji McCullough, senior scientific director of epidemiology research for The American Cancer Society, said another limitation could be coffee-drinking habits before cancer diagnosis.
“Coffee was only measured at one point in time,” she said “It would be helpful to know if coffee consumption had changed when they were diagnosed and ... to have repeated measures of coffee consumption.”
The study adds to a large body of literature on coffee with both positive and negative associations.
McCullough said coffee once was largely linked with an increased risk of cancer, but that has been largely debunked as researchers began controlling for smoking and tobacco use. While many experts agree that coffee is not harmful, some are still skeptical about its benefits.
“There were a number of studies that looked at the impact of coffee and the development of colorectal cancer,” Kopetz said. “An analysis of 26 studies recently ... suggested no overall benefit for coffee and risk of colorectal cancer development.”
Another Harvard study found in 2017 that people with colorectal cancer who drank at least four cups of coffee a day after their diagnosis had a significantly lower risk of early death than those who didn’t drink coffee.
Other recent studies also found coffee drinkers are less likely to die from some of the leading causes of death including coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. McCullough said coffee also has been associated with a reduced risk of liver cancer.
Colorectal cancer — colon and rectal cancer — is expected to cause more than 50,000 deaths in 2020, including 3,640 deaths in people younger than 50. Symptoms of colorectal cancer include a change in bowel movements, rectal bleeding, blood in stool and abdominal pain.
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