Coffee may provide chemoprotection against head and neck cancer, according to a study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention (2010 Jun 22. [Epub ahead of print]).

During the study, led by Mia Hashibe, PhD, assistant professor in the department of family and preventive medicine at the University of Utah, researchers used information from nine studies collected by the International Head and Neck Cancer Epidemiology (INHANCE) consortium. Included in the study were participants who were regular coffee drinkers, defined as drinking an estimated 4 or more cups a day.

Dr. Hashibe and her team found that compared with those who were non-drinkers, regular coffee drinkers had a 39% decreased risk of oral cavity and pharynx cancers combined. Researchers reported that the association was more reliable among those who were frequent, regular coffee drinkers, consuming more than 4 cups a day.

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“Since coffee is so widely used and there is a relatively high incidence and low survival rate of these forms of cancers, our results have important public health implications that need to be further addressed, said Dr. Hashibe. “What make our results so unique is that we had a very large sample size, and since we combined data across may studies, we had more statistical power to detect associations between cancer and coffee.”

Dr. Hashibe’s findings support additional studies that have provided evidence for an association between caffeinated coffee drinking and a decreased cancer risk.

“The fact that this was seen for oral and pharyngeal cancers, but not laryngeal cancers, provides some evidence as to a possible specificity of effect,” said Johanna Lampe, PhD, RD, an editorial board member of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. “These findings provide further impetus to pursue research to understand the role of coffee in head and neck cancer prevention.”