Is There a Link Between Coffee and Oral Cancer?

Woman Drinking Coffee is HappyIt’s no surprise that Americans love their coffee. In fact, according to a recent poll, 83% of U.S. adults drink coffee every day and the average American drinks about 3 cups of the brown stuff per day (that’s a whopping 537 million cups a day!). A slew of recent studies have shown that regularly consuming coffee may be associated with better mental and physical performance (something we coffee drinkers already knew!), lower risk for Type II diabetes, and lower risk for liver cancer and cirrhosis of the liver. Now, good news from the American Dental Association suggests that drinking four or more cups of coffee a day may be associated with a lower risk for oral cancers.

What Does the Research Say?

In December 2012, the American Journal of Epidemiology published the results of a long-term study conducted by the American Cancer Society. In the study, which was launched in 1982, researchers followed the health of 968,432 volunteers. Over the course of 26 years, 868 of the original participants died from some type of oral cancer. To get a better idea of what factors may have influenced this mortality, researchers examined lifestyle habits of those who were diagnosed with oral cancer, those who survived, and those who died. Interestingly, participants who drank more than four cups of caffeinated coffee (the study did not address decaffeinated coffee) every day had 49% lower risk for dying from oral cancer.

This type of study isn’t designed to provide a definitive answer the why this link was found. However, many in the medical field identify coffee’s high levels of antioxidants and polyphenols, compounds that research says can help prevent the progression of cancer or development of cancerous cells.

What Do These Findings Mean for You?

First, it’s important to note that these findings suggest a correlation between coffee drinking and lower oral cancer mortality, not causality. Therefore, if you’re not already a coffee drinker, you probably shouldn’t rush out and immediately start chugging four cups of coffee a day (especially since consuming too much caffeine can make you feel jittery, nervous, anxious, and confused and can even lead to diarrhea, rapid heartbeat, and nausea).

Second, coffee alone is not enough to prevent oral cancer. Lifestyle habits like smoking and drinking alcohol, as well as the presence of the Human-Papilloma virus (HPV) can have a greater influence on your risk for oral cancer. Your best bet is to attend regular six-month checkups with your family dentist, since visual oral cancer screenings are part of all regular checkups.