Residency & Beyond

Coffee Reduces Risk of Oral Cancer?

Coffee drinkers rejoice! Recent research from the American Cancer Society states that coffee intake is associated with reduced risk of oral/pharyngeal cancer. The prospective study, which began in 1982, included 968,432 men and women who were cancer free at enrollment. The results indicated that an “intake of >4 cups/day of caffeinated coffee was associated with a 49% lower risk of oral/pharyngeal cancer death” compared to no/occasional coffee intake. That is strong evidence that coffee reduces risk of oral cancer. In addition, there was no such association for tea drinking, and the correlation of coffee intake and cancer prevention was not changed by sex, smoking status, or alcohol use.

According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, close to 40,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer every year. Of these 40,000, more than 8,000 people die of oral or pharyngeal cancer every year. Of the diagnosed individuals, approximately 57% live for 5 years. Worldwide, over 640,000 new cases are found every year. Oral cancer is dangerous because it is not easily noticed in the early stages. By the time someone recognizes its symptoms, the cancer could have already become more aggressive. This fact is the main contributor to why the death rate of this cancer is so high.

Historically, oral cancer most commonly occurs in those over the age of 40. But recent data suggests that the fastest growing population of those diagnosed with oral cancer is non-smokers under the age of fifty. The number of people who have oral cancers that grow anterior to the mouth is decreasing because the use of the risk factors, tobacco and alcohol, has declined. Nevertheless, those who smoke and drink have a 15 times greater risk of developing oral cancer than others. On the flip side, accounts of oral cancer that grows in posterior sites of the mouth, which is associated with HPV16 virus, has increased. It has been suggested that this increase is associated with the recent change of sexual activity-more oral sex which leads to more spread of the virus.

Now perpetual coffee drinkers have even more reason to keep up their habit because these studies show that coffee can reduce the risk of developing this lethal cancer. Studies also suggest that coffee drinkers, compared to nondrinkers, are less likely to have type 2 diabetes, gallstones, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia. The coffee drinking population also has fewer cases of other cancers, heart rhythm problems, and strokes. A recent publication in the New England Journal of Medicine goes as far to say that coffee drinkers “who drank at least two or three cups a day were about 10 percent or 15 percent less likely to die for any reason”.

Of course, drinking coffee is not without its risks  and should be consumed moderately. Nevertheless, it is amazing how coffee, something that was not commonly consumed in the past and was once believed to be a health risk, has become ubiquitous and a potential health benefit.

Edward Chang

Edward Chang is the Co-founder and Director of Operations of He graduated from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and is currently a urology resident at the University of Washington. He also attended UCLA as an undergraduate, graduating with a major in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology. If you are interested in contributing to, please contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @EdwardChangMD and Prospective Doctor @ProspectiveDr.

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