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Can Coffee Protect Against Common Cancers?

Two New Studies Show Coffee Guards Against Liver and Colon Cancer
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WebMD Health News

Feb. 15, 2005 -- There's more good news for the roughly 100 million Americans who couldn't imagine getting through the day without their coffee fix. Recent studies have shown that regular coffee consumption may lower the risk of developing diseases such as diabetes and Parkinson's. Now comes word that it may also protect against two common cancers.

Two separate studies, reported in the Feb. 16 issue of The Journal of the National Cancer Institute, examined the impact of coffee drinking on cancer risk.

Researchers in Japan found that regular coffee drinkers had about half the incidence of liver cancer as people who never drank coffee. And a study from the Harvard School of Public Health showed that drinking decaf, but not caffeinated, coffee appeared to have a similar impact on colorectal cancer risk.

Is Decaffeinated Coffee Really Best?

In the Harvard study, researchers examined data from two large, ongoing health trials involving 134,000 people. The participants were questioned about their coffee, tea, and caffeine consumption at different time periods over the course of 15 years.

Researcher Karin B. Michels, ScD, and colleagues found no association between consumption of caffeinated coffee or tea and colorectal cancer risk. But people who regularly drank two or more cups of decaffeinated coffee a day had about half the rate of rectal cancer as people who never drank decaffeinated coffee.

Michels tells WebMD that she initially thought the apparent protection could be explained by the fact that the decaffeinated coffee drinkers tended to have healthier lifestyles than the people who drank caffeinated coffee. But tea drinkers in the study also tended to have healthier habits, but had the same cancer risk as people who drank caffeinated coffee.

Even though she says now she believes that decaffeinated coffee may have unique cancer-fighting benefits, the researcher is not yet recommending that people switch from high-test to low.

"I would definitely like to see more studies that focus on decaffeinated coffee," she says.

Coffee and Liver Cancer

The second study, reported by researchers from Tokyo's National Cancer Center, involved 90,500 middle-aged and elderly men and women living in Japan. More than 300 of the participants developed liver cancer during a 10-year period.

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