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Coffee can help prevent the return of bowel cancer

Regular consumption of caffeinated coffee may help prevent the return of colon cancer after treatment and improve the chances of a cure, according to a new, large study from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute that reported this striking association for the first time.

The patients, all of them treated with surgery and chemotherapy for stage III colon cancer, had the greatest benefit from consuming four or more cups of coffee a day (about 460 milligrams of caffeine), according to the study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. These patients were 42% less likely to have their cancer return than non-coffee drinkers, and were 33% less likely to die from cancer or any other cause.

 

Two to three cups of coffee daily had a more modest benefit, while little protection was associated with one cup or less, reported the researchers, led by Charles Fuchs, MD, MPH, director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Center at Dana-Farber. First author is Brendan J. Guercio, MD, also of Dana-Farber.

The study included nearly 1,000 patients who filled out dietary pattern questionnaires early in the study, during chemotherapy and again about a year later. This “prospective” design eliminated patients' need to recall their coffee-drinking habits years later – a source of potential bias in many observational studies.

“We found that coffee drinkers had a lower risk of the cancer coming back and a significantly greater survival and chance of a cure,” Fuchs said. Most recurrences happen within five years of treatment and are uncommon after that, he noted. In patients with stage III disease, the cancer has been found in the lymph nodes near the original tumor but there are no signs of further metastasis. Fuchs said these patients have about a 35 percent chance of recurrence.

As encouraging as the results appear to be, Fuchs is hesitant to make recommendations to patients until the results are confirmed in other studies. “If you are a coffee drinker and are being treated for colon cancer, don't stop,” he said. “But if you're not a coffee drinker and wondering whether to start, you should first discuss it with your physician.”

Fuchs said the study is the first to show an association between caffeinated coffee and risk of colon cancer recurrence. It adds to a number of recent studies suggesting that coffee may have protective effects against the development of several kinds of cancer, including reduced risks of postmenopausal breast cancer, melanoma, liver cancer, advanced prostate cancer.

Justin Davies, Consultant Colorectal Surgeon at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge and Clinical Adviser at Check4Cancer, comments: “Dietary advice with regard to colon health and cancer risk is more often associated with what we should be reducing or giving up – alcohol, sugar, red meat – so this is rather refreshing news... It’s also, potentially, a significant step forward in the treatment of colon cancer. So far, this only shows a connection between caffeine intake and the potential recurrence of cancer, but the prospect of such a simple method of improving a patient’s chances of full recovery is also a very welcome development – and there may yet be more to discover with regard to how caffeine impacts on initial risk. In the meantime, for those in higher-risk groups, early detection remains the best first line of defence.”

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