Colon cancer patients who drink several cups of coffee daily may have a significantly lower risk of recurrence after treatment and an improved chance of cure. That’s the provocative finding of a large study reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
The research is the first to link colon cancer recurrence and coffee; it comes on the heels of a number of reports in recent years suggesting coffee consumption may offer some protection against various types of cancer, including postmenopausal breast cancer, melanoma, liver cancer, advanced prostate cancer.
However, the researchers, led by Charles Fuchs, MD, MPH, director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Center at Dana-Farber, aren’t quite ready to recommend that non-drinkers take up the habit until additional studies confirm the link.
“If you are a coffee drinker and are being treated for colon cancer, don’t stop,” Fuchs says. “But if you’re not a coffee drinker and wondering whether to start, you should first discuss it with your physician.” He notes that only caffeinated coffee was effective in reducing recurrence risk, for reasons not yet understood.
The study involved nearly 1,000 patients who were treated with surgery and chemotherapy for stage III colon cancer, meaning the cancer had been found in the lymph nodes near the original tumor with no signs of further metastasis. Fuchs said these patients typically have about a 35 percent chance of recurrence.
The greatest benefit of coffee consumption was seen in patients who drank four or more cups daily – about 460 milligrams of caffeine. These patients had a 42 percent lower rate of disease recurrence than those who didn’t drink coffee, and were 33 percent less likely to die from cancer or any other cause.
Two to three cups of coffee daily had a more modest benefit, while little protection was associated with one cup or less.
First author of the report is Brendan J. Guercio, MD, also of Dana-Farber. Jeffrey Meyerhardt, MD, MPH, clinical director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Center at Dana-Farber, is co-senior author of the study.
Fuchs says the research focused on coffee and other dietary factors because coffee drinking – in addition to possibly being protective against some cancers – had been shown to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Risk factors for diabetes – obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, a Western diet high in calories and sugar, and high levels of insulin – are also implicated in colon cancer.
Other than drinking coffee, Fuchs said, people can take other measures to reduce cancer risks – avoiding obesity, exercising regularly, adopting a healthier diet, and eating nuts, which also reduce the risk of diabetes.
Regular screening for colon cancer is also critically important. Everyone over the age of 50 should be screened for colorectal cancer, and some people, depending on other medical conditions and family history should be screened much earlier.