CANCER
August 20, 2015

Coffee for Colon Cancer?

Yet another benefit of coffee may be that it helps prevent relapse in colon cancer patients.

If you’re currently a coffee drinker, sit back and enjoy the results of an encouraging new study along with your morning coffee. The research finds that in people with stage III colon cancer, drinking a few cups of coffee a day significantly reduced the risk of recurrence. This isn’t reason to pick up the habit if you’re not a coffee drinker — but if you currently partake, the researchers say, by all means continue.

The risk of cancer recurrence for people drinking four or more cups was 52% lower than abstainers.

In order to gauge the effects of coffee on cancer recurrence, the team asked 1,000 stage III colon cancer patients going through treatment to write down their dietary habits at the time of treatment and again after a year.

In state III cancer, the cancer has spread to the surrounding lymph nodes, but not to other sites throughout the body. For people with this stage of colon cancer, there’s about a 35% chance it will come back in the next five years. After five years recurrence is rare.

People who drank four or more cups of coffee per day (equivalent to 460 mg of caffeine) were 42% less likely to have their cancer recur, compared to non-coffee drinkers. They also had a 33% reduced risk of dying from cancer or from any cause. People who drank less than four cups — two to three — didn’t seem to have the same level of protective effects from their coffee, but still had a reduced risk of recurrence. Interestingly, when they looked at caffeinated coffee in particular, the risk of cancer recurrence for people drinking four or more cups was 52% lower than abstainers.

“We found that coffee drinkers had a lower risk of the cancer coming back and a significantly greater survival and chance of a cure,” study author Charles Fuchs said in a statement. And, the team says, it seemed to be the caffeine itself that was responsible for the effects, rather than other compounds in coffee.

It's not yet certain how caffeine would lower cancer recurrence rate, but it may be that it reduces how much insulin is released by the pancreas, which could reduce inflammation in the body.

As promising as it sounds, starting to drink coffee if you’re not already a coffee drinker probably isn’t advisable just yet. Taking up the coffee drinking habit in middle age might have may have an as-yet-unknown downside, and coffee does have some negative side effects, like increasing anxiety — and, after all, it is an addictive substance.

“If you are a coffee drinker and are being treated for colon cancer, don't stop,” Fuchs said. “But if you're not a coffee drinker and wondering whether to start, you should first discuss it with your physician.”

Coffee has been linked to a reduced risk of other forms of cancer, like breast cancer in postmenopausal women, along with melanoma, liver cancer, and advanced prostate cancer. It’s also been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and depression. So if you’re a lifelong coffee devotee, it seems to be ok to keep drinking it. It may even be a very smart move, for many different reasons. And now, colon cancer relapse may be added to that list.

The study was carried out at the Gastrointestinal Cancer Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

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