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Can Coffee Lower Cancer Risk?

happy young couple drink coffee outside their home

Most Americans drink at least 1 cup of coffee a day, and many feel like they can’t face the morning without it. So wouldn’t it be great if our beloved beverage helped protect us from cancer? There is, in fact, some reason to believe it could. Coffee is brewed from beans that contain antioxidants, which are thought to have a protective effect against cancer.

Researchers have conducted more than 1,000 studies looking at this question, with mixed results. Some early studies seemed to show that coffee might increase risk of some cancer types. Since then, however, larger and better designed studies have weakened those conclusions. And many of the newer studies link coffee drinking to a lowered risk of some types of cancer, including prostate cancer, liver cancer, endometrial cancer, and some cancers of the mouth and throat.

But in some of these studies, the benefit was found in people who drank 4 to 6 cups of coffee a day, which is a lot. Too much caffeine can interfere with sleep, trigger migraines, and cause digestive problems. And if you take your coffee with cream and sugar, the added fat and calories can contribute to weight gain – which increases the risk for many types of cancer. According to Colleen Doyle, MS, RD, American Cancer Society managing director of nutrition and physical activity, the surest steps any of us can take to lower cancer risk are: don’t smoke, eat well, and be physically active.

And if you want to consume more antioxidants, consider adding more vegetables and fruits to your diet. Vegetables and fruits are rich sources of antioxidants, and studies show that people who eat more of them may be helping to lower their cancer risk.

Acrylamide: a chemical found in coffee

In March 2018, a California court ruling related to acrylamide, a chemical formed during the coffee roasting process, raised questions among consumers. A judge had ruled in favor of a consumer group that argued coffee companies in California must post cancer warnings to customers. But since then, the state’s environmental health arm argued that acrylamide in coffee poses no significant cancer risk based on the latest research, and in fact may even have health benefits. The label requirement is now being reviewed.

American Cancer Society experts Susan Gapstur, PhD, and Marjorie McCullough, ScD say more research is needed to more fully understand the biologic mechanisms underlying associations of coffee drinking, acrylamide exposure, and cancer risk. They also point out that acrylamide is found in French fries, chips, and cookies. Therefore, people concerned about exposure may consider limiting consumption of these foods, which is consistent with American Cancer Society recommendations for nutrition and physical activity for cancer prevention.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.