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Coffee and Cancer

February 04, 2015
by Michael Greenwood

Yale doctoral candidate leads research effort that finds cancer-fighting benefits in coffee.

Erikka Loftfield is a doctoral candidate in the Yale Graduate School of Arts & Sciences and her research and studies were completed at the Yale School of Public Health and the National Cancer Institute under Dr. Susan Mayne’s T32 training grant. She has completed her dissertation research and will be defending her work later this month (February 13). Loftfield was the lead author on a recent paper in JNCI Journal of the National Cancer Institute that found an association between coffee consumption and the risk of cutaneous melanoma. Drinking at least four cups a day of caffeinated coffee reduces the risk of this deadly from of skin cancer. After graduation, Loftfield will begin a postdoctoral Cancer Research Training Award fellowship in the Divisions of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at the National Cancer Institute

You and your colleagues found that moderate coffee consumption (around four cups daily) can lessen the risk of melanoma skin cancer. What properties in coffee might account for this?

EL: Evidence from experimental studies has suggested a link between coffee or coffee compounds, such as caffeine and polyphenols, and UV-related cancers; however, the underlying mechanism has not been established and was not addressed in this study.

If someone drinks more coffee do they have more protection?

EL: We observed a significant trend across categories of coffee consumption; however, only those who reported drinking four or more cups per day had a statistically significantly lower risk of malignant melanoma. Other studies have reported inverse associations of coffee with mortality and other chronic diseases at varying levels of consumption; however, the present study only considered the association of coffee with melanoma.

Does coffee also afford protection against other forms of skin cancer, such as basal and squamous cell carcinoma?

EL: A number of epidemiological studies, including the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, have reported an inverse association between caffeinated coffee drinking and basal cell carcinoma. We did not, however, consider non-melanoma skin cancers in our study.

What led you to this research?

EL: A few other observational studies have reported a similar inverse association between coffee drinking and melanoma, but overall previous results have been inconsistent. We sought to clarify this relationship using data from the large NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study.

Were you surprised by the findings?

EL: We followed over 400,000 retirees ranging in age from 50 to 71 years old at study entry for an average of 10 years. Participants were asked to report typical coffee intake. During the course of follow-up, nearly 3,000 cases of malignant melanoma occurred. Given the large size of our cohort and large number of melanoma cases, we had good statistical power and were not surprised to find that higher coffee drinking was associated with lower risk of melanoma.

What’s next for you? Do you plan to study the topic of coffee and skin cancer further?

EL: I am currently completing my dissertation research, which focuses on understanding associations between coffee, mortality and cancer. Once I complete my studies at Yale, I will begin a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Cancer Institute where I will continue to work on various epidemiological studies aimed at understanding associations between diet, including coffee, and cancer.

Might coffee have other beneficial health advantages?

EL: Epidemiological studies have reported coffee drinking to be inversely associated with mortality as well as incidence of type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and cancers of the liver, endometrium, colon and skin.

How serious a health threat is melanoma and what is the biggest factor in getting this form of cancer?

EL: According to cancer registry data from NCI’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program, melanoma is the fifth most common type of cancer in the United States and the leading cause of skin cancer death. SEER estimates that approximately 2.1 percent of men and women in the United States will be diagnosed with cutaneous melanoma at some point during their lifetime. The most important thing individuals can do to reduce their risk of melanoma is to reduce sun and ultraviolet radiation exposure.

Do you drink coffee?

EL: I do enjoy drinking coffee. However, our results do not indicate that individuals should alter their coffee drinking preferences.

Submitted by Denise Meyer on February 05, 2015