Coffee Does Not Cause Cancer, but Hot Drinks Might

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Coffee drinkers can sip a little easier now that the World Health Organization has downgraded coffee’s cancer risk. Due to inadequate evidence and inconsistent findings, consumers no longer need to worry about their morning cup of Joe. In fact, drinking coffee may actually protect consumers from several chronic diseases.

Coffee was demonized in 1991 when it was described as “possibly carcinogenic” and associated with bladder and pancreatic cancer (International Agency for Research on Cancer, 1991). However, these earlier studies did not control for higher smoking rates among coffee drinkers and, since then, a lot of research has surfaced in which scientists have observed protective effects in coffee drinkers when it comes to heart disease (Bhatti, O’Keefe, & Lavie, 2013; Ding, Bhupathiraju, Satija, van Dam, & Hu, 2014), type 2 diabetes (Bhatti et al., 2013; Santos & Lima, 2016) and several cancers (Liu, Crous-Bou, Giovannucci, & De Vivo, 2016; Schmit, Rennert, Rennert, & Gruber, 2016).

Coffee does not appear to increase the risk of cancer in humans, and instead, it may have strong antioxidant effects and pro-health benefits. Results from the Nurses’ Health Study found that higher coffee consumption was associated with longer telomeres, the end pieces of chromosomes that shorten with age and oxidative stress (Liu et al., 2016). Other recent studies found coffee consumption was inversely associated with the risk of colorectal cancer (Schmit et al., 2016) and all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality (Crippa, Discacciati, Larsson, Wolk, & Orsini, 2014). As of now the scientific evidence seems to favour those who indulge in a few cups of coffee each day.

The authors of the report published by the World Health Organization assessed more than 1,000 observational and experimental studies as part of their re-evaluation of coffee (Loomis et al., 2016), which is the second highest consumed drink worldwide. Researchers found a correlation between drink temperature and cancer rates; specifically, higher rates of esophageal cancer were associated with the consumption of very hot (>65 degrees Celsius) drinks (Loomis et al., 2016). One explanation for this link is that the lining of the throat can become injured with sustained consumption of very hot drinks and thereby lead to cancer. However, we cannot identify the risk of developing esophageal cancer from drinking a hot cup of coffee from this report. Until then, coffee consumers should feel free to rejoice, indulge and savour every latte, macchiato, cappuccino and espresso they throw back.


Bhatti, S. K., O’Keefe, J. H., & Lavie, C. J. (2013). Coffee and tea: perks for health and longevity? Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, 16(6), 688–697.

Crippa, A., Discacciati, A., Larsson, S. C., Wolk, A., & Orsini, N. (2014). Coffee consumption and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer: a dose-response meta-analysis. American Journal of Epidemiology, 180(8), 763–775.

Ding, M., Bhupathiraju, S. N., Satija, A., van Dam, R. M., & Hu, F. B. (2014). Long-term coffee consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease: a systematic review and a dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Circulation, 129(6), 643–659.

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Liu, J. J., Crous-Bou, M., Giovannucci, E., & De Vivo, I. (2016). Coffee Consumption Is Positively Associated with Longer Leukocyte Telomere Length in the Nurses’ Health Study. The Journal of Nutrition.

Loomis, D., Guyton, K. Z., Grosse, Y., Lauby-Secretan, B., El Ghissassi, F., Bouvard, V., … Straif, K. (2016). Carcinogenicity of drinking coffee, mate, and very hot beverages. The Lancet Oncology.

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Santos, R. M. M., & Lima, D. R. A. (2016). Coffee consumption, obesity and type 2 diabetes: a mini-review. European Journal of Nutrition, 55(4), 1345–1358.

Schmit, S. L., Rennert, H. S., Rennert, G., & Gruber, S. B. (2016). Coffee Consumption and the Risk of Colorectal Cancer. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention : A Publication of the American Association for Cancer Research, Cosponsored by the American Society of Preventive Oncology, 25(4), 634–639.


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