Drinking four cups of coffee a day protects against oral cancer, a study shows.
People with a heavy coffee habit are 39 per cent less likely to suffer from cancers of the mouth and pharynx, it suggests.
Doctors say people should drink coffee in moderation because caffeine can increase heart rate and blood pressure.
However, the researchers insist evidence is strong that some of the 1,000 chemicals in coffee – including antioxidants – can offer protection against the cancers.
The American scientists used information gleaned from nine studies from Europe, America and Central America, which compared the coffee habits of around 5,000 cancer patients and more than 9,000 healthy people.
After taking into account smoking, diet and alcohol habits, they found that regular coffee drinkers were 39 per cent less likely to develop cancers of the mouth and pharynx than people who drank no coffee.
Lead author Dr Mia Hashibe, from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, said: ‘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.
What makes our results so unique is that we had a very large sample size, and since we combined data across many studies, we had more statistical power to detect associations between cancer and coffee.’
Around 5,500 Britons are diagnosed with cancers of the lips, tongue, tonsils, gum and other parts of the mouth each year, while 1,800 people die from the disease.
Oral cancer – mostly caused by smoking and alcohol – is on the rise in young and middle aged men.
It is difficult to treat and is sometimes disfiguring. Other risk factors include a poor diet and harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun on the lips.
Early symptoms include ulcers that fail to heal, or which bleed easily, red or red and white patches in the mouth that do not go away, lumps in the tongue, mouth or throat, difficulty swallowing or chewing and persistent pain.
Studies on the links between coffee and cancer have produced confusing and sometimes contradictory results.
These results confused because coffee drinking could be a marker for some other lifestyle factor that increases cancer risk, such as smoking and alcohol.
However, recent studies have shown that coffee may reduce the risk of cancers of the pancreas, colon, brain and gullet.
The study was published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.
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