Daily coffee doesn’t affect cancer risk, according to new research from QIMR

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Researchers from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute have found that drinking coffee does not change a person’s risk of being diagnosed with, or dying from, cancer, in a study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology

The large Mendelian randomisation study looked at data from more than 300,000 people and showed that drinking coffee every day neither reduced nor increased a person’s risk of developing any cancer. 

Coffee contains a complex mixture of bioactive ingredients, including substances such as caffeine and kahweol, which have been shown to display antitumour effects in animal studies. However, its potential anticancer effect on humans has not been established, with studies to date producing conflicting findings for overall cancer risk and for individual cancers such as breast and prostate cancers. 

The QIMR Berghofer study used cancer data drawn from the UK Biobank cohort for more than 46,000 people who had been diagnosed with most invasive cancer types, including about 7,000 people who died from the disease. 

Senior author, QIMR’s Associate Professor Stuart MacGregor said “Our two-pronged research looked at whether cancer rates differed among people with different levels of self-reported coffee consumption, and whether the same trend was seen when we replaced self-reported consumption with genetic predisposition towards coffee consumption. We found there was no real relationship between how many cups of coffee a person had a day and if they developed any particular cancers.”

“The study also ruled out a link between coffee intake and dying from the disease,” he said.

The genetic and preference information from the people with cancer was compared with data from more than 270,000 others who had never been diagnosed with cancer. QIMR Berghofer lead researcher, Jue-Sheng Ong, said the study also looked at some common individual cancers such as breast, ovarian, lung and prostate cancers and found drinking coffee did not increase or decrease their incidence.

“There was some inconclusive evidence about colorectal cancer, where those who reported drinking a lot of coffee had a slightly lower risk of developing cancer, but conversely examination of data from those people with a higher genetic predisposition to drink more coffee seemed to indicate a greater risk of developing the disease. The disparity in those findings would suggest more research is needed to clarify if there is any relationship between colorectal cancer and coffee” Mr Ong said.

Associate Professor MacGregor said the study had implications for public health messaging around the world.

“The health benefits of coffee have been argued for a long time, but this research shows simply changing your coffee consumption isn’t an effective way of protecting yourself from cancer,” he said