Does Coffee Cause Cancer?

The health risks (and benefits) of coffee have been investigated by medical professionals for years—but so far, there is not a concrete connection between coffee consumption and cancer.

Overall, the health benefits of coffee seem to outweigh the bad. Multiple studies have shown that coffee consumption (without any of the added fats and sugars) is associated with a lower risk of death from any cause. Other studies have suggested that coffee drinkers may also have a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, liver cancer, and colon cancer.

“The bottom line is that consumption of coffee has not been shown in people to definitively contribute to cancer risk. Data continues to show risk reduction with some coffee consumption,” says Dana-Farber senior clinical nutritionist Stacy Kennedy, RD, MPH. “The healthiest way to drink coffee may be black; omit excessive amounts of sugars, sweeteners, syrups and creamers.”

It appears that coffee has probable health benefits, but any major risks associated with coffee consumption is still uncertain. Just be sure to leave out the heavy creams and sugars.

A cup of coffee.

Acrylamide

In 2018, a California judge ruled that coffee companies will be required to post a warning that their coffee contains a chemical called acrylamide that may be a risk factor for cancer. Acrylamide forms when the coffee beans are roasted.

Acrylamide has been labeled as a probable carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The chemical has been primarily found in different industrial applications, such as grouting materials, and in tobacco products since the 1950s. But in 2002, it was discovered that certain foods that undergo high heat processing are high in carbohydrates like French fries, potato chips, snack foods, cereal products, cakes, bread—and yes, coffee—have all been found to contain acrylamide when processed by heat that is 250 degrees Fahrenheit and above.

Although data has shown that exposing lab animals to large doses of acrylamide in their drinking water increases the animal’s risk of some cancers, there has been no evidence that the chemical causes cancer in humans at this point. There have been few studies about acrylamide’s effect on humans and the effects of the chemical in food.

What researchers do know is that exposure amounts of acrylamide are much more substantial from tobacco smoke than coffee or food.

Regarding coffee, acrylamide only forms when the beans are roasted, so brewing a cup at home should be relatively acrylamide-free. If you prefer your caffeine on the go, don’t worry: the acrylamide levels in coffee brewed by big coffee companies were so low that Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment in California rejected the court ruling of requiring a cancer risk warning.