Coffee For Cancer?
Is it true that drinking coffee can lead to longer survival in cancer patients? If so, how much coffee, how often?
Andrew Weil, M.D. | November 9, 2020
Results of a recent study showed that among 1,171 patients treated for metastatic colorectal cancer, those who consumed two to three cups of coffee a day had a lower risk of the cancer worsening than those who didn’t drink any coffee. Patients who drank four or more cups of coffee per day did even better. It didn’t matter whether the coffee was caffeinated or decaf.
Chen Yuan, Sc.D., a co-author of the study, wrote that it has long been known that several compounds in coffee “have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and other properties that may be active against cancer.” She noted that epidemiological studies have found that higher coffee intake is associated with improved survival in patients with stage 3 colon cancer, but the relationship between coffee consumption and survival in patients with metastatic forms of the disease hasn’t been known.
The study drew on data from a clinical trial that compared the addition of one of two drugs to standard chemotherapy in patients with previously untreated, locally advanced or metastatic colon cancer. As part of the trial, participants reported on their diets, including their coffee consumption.
While the new findings suggest that drinking coffee isn’t harmful and may be helpful, senior study author Kimmie Ng, M.D., M.P.H., noted that at this time “it is premature to recommend a high intake of coffee as a potential treatment for colorectal cancer.” She added that more research is needed “to determine if there is indeed a causal connection between coffee consumption and improved outcomes in patients with colorectal cancer, and precisely which compounds within coffee are responsible for this benefit.”
For the record, a review of the subject published in July 2020 in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that coffee consumption doesn’t appear to increase the risk of cancer or death from cancer. In fact, the reviewers noted that coffee consumption is associated with a slightly reduced risk of melanoma, non-melanoma skin cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer. Stronger inverse associations have been observed between coffee consumption and the risk of endometrial cancer.
An earlier study, from the Harvard School of Public Health, found that regularly drinking coffee reduces the risk of a lethal form of prostate cancer, and another from Sweden found that drinking coffee reduces the risk of estrogen-receptor-negative breast cancer.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Christopher Mackintosh et al “Association of Coffee Intake with Survival in Patients With Advanced or Metastatic Colorectal Cancer.” JAMA Oncology, September 17, 2020; DOI: 10.1001/jamaoncol.2020.3938