Good news for heavy coffee drinkers: That cup of joe may lower your risk for oral and pharyngeal cancers.
Researchers discovered that people who drank more than four cups of caffeinated coffee a day had half the risk of dying from oral and pharyngeal -- or throat cancers -- compared to those who only occasionally or never drink coffee.
"Coffee is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world, and contains a variety of antioxidants, polyphenols, and other biologically active compounds that may help to protect against development or progression of cancers," Janet Hildebrand, an epidemiologist with the American Cancer Society said in a press release. "Although it is less common in the United States, oral/pharyngeal cancer is among the ten most common cancers in the world. Our finding strengthens the evidence of a possible protective effect of caffeinated coffee in the etiology and/or progression of cancers of the mouth and pharynx."
According to the National Cancer Institute, about 40,250 men and women will be diagnosed with cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx in 2012. Approximately 7,850 people will die from the disease.
Incidence rates for oral and pharynx cancers are quite low in the U.S. with 1.08 percent of men and women - approximately 1 out of 93 people -- estimated to get the disease.
Researchers looked at 968,432 men and women enrolled in the Cancer Prevention Study II, a study conducted by the American Cancer Society starting in 1992. They took a closer look at the subjects' intake of caffeinated coffee, decaffeinated coffee and tea. More than 97 percent of the people drank coffee or tea, with more than 60 percent drinking at least one cup of coffee a day.
In total 868 people died from oral or pharynx cancers during the 26 years that they were followed on average. But, those who drank more than four cups of coffee a day had a 49 percent lower risk of death from the cancers compared to the group that drank no or occasional cups of coffee. People who drank five or six cups of coffee a day also had similar rates, but it was hard for researchers to judge the effect of coffee on oral cancers at numbers above that.
There was some indication that those who drank more than two cups of decaffeinated coffee may also have a lower oral cavity and pharynx cancer risk, but the number was not significant. There was no association derived for heavy tea drinkers.
The researchers don't know why coffee can stop oral or pharynx cancers, but coffee is known to have compounds that have anti-cancer compounds. Right now they can't say if coffee was the main reason why certain people didn't get these cancers since they only looked at the number of deaths and not the diagnosis.
"We're not recommending people start to drink coffee or that people increase their coffee [intake] for cancer prevention," Hildebrand said to WebMD. "Much more epidemiological and scientific and clinical evidence would be needed to support such a recommendation."
The study was published online in American Journal of Epidemiology on Dec. 9, 2012.