Coffee drinkers at lower risk of most common liver cancer – report

Study took place in Britain, NI and looked at coffee-drinking habits of 471,779 participants

Over three quarters of participants reported drinking coffee and compared to those who did not drink coffee, drinkers were more likely to be older, male, from less deprived areas and have higher education levels. Photograph: iStock

Over three quarters of participants reported drinking coffee and compared to those who did not drink coffee, drinkers were more likely to be older, male, from less deprived areas and have higher education levels. Photograph: iStock

 

Coffee drinkers have a lower risk of suffering the most common type of liver cancer, a research team from Queen’s University, Belfast has reported.

The study took place in Britain and Northern Ireland over 7-and-a-half years and looked at the coffee-drinking habits of 471,779 participants in the UK Biobank, one of the largest studies of middle-aged individuals in the world.

The Biobank is a British and international health resource that is following the health and well-being of 500,000 volunteers.

“People with a coffee-drinking habit could find keeping that habit going is good for their health,” said the Vietnamese lead author of the report, Kim Tu Tran who is a postgraduate research student from the Centre for Public Health at Queen’s University.

“That is because coffee contains antioxidants and caffeine, which may protect against cancer,” he said on Thursday.

“However, drinking coffee is not as protective against liver cancer as stopping smoking, cutting down on alcohol or losing weight,” counselled Ms Tu Tran.

Smoking and alcohol link

The study found that coffee drinkers have a lower risk of the most common type of liver cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).

The results have been presented at the National Cancer Research Institute conference in Glasgow this week and were published in the British Journal of Cancer earlier this year.

Over three quarters of participants reported drinking coffee and compared to those who did not drink coffee, drinkers were more likely to be older, male, from less deprived areas and have higher education levels, according to the research team.

They were also more likely to be previous or current smokers, consume higher levels of alcohol, have high cholesterol and were less likely to have chronic conditions such as diabetes, cirrhosis, gallstones, and peptic ulcers compared with non-coffee drinkers.

After taking these factors into account, the researchers found that coffee drinkers were 50 per cent less likely to develop HCC compared to those who did not drink coffee.

Dr Úna McMenamin, co-author of the Queen’s study, stressed that while the participating coffee drinkers tended to smoke, drink and have evident poor eating habits this certainly did not mean that these habits were good for you.

Consistent findings

The researchers said the findings for liver cancer were consistent with the evidence from the World Cancer Research Fund’s report which concluded that there is “probable” evidence to suggest that coffee drinking lowers the risk of liver cancer.

The rates of liver cancer have risen by 60 per cent in the UK in the last decade. About 6,000 people are diagnosed with liver cancer each year in the UK with 90 per cent of them HCC.

The researchers also investigated other digestive cancers, such as bowel and stomach, but found no consistent links with coffee drinking.

Dr McMenamin said this was one of the first studies to investigate the risk of digestive cancers according to different types of coffee. “We found that the risk of HCC was just as low in people who drank mostly instant coffee, the type most commonly drank in the UK,” she said.

“We need much more research to determine the possible biological reasons behind this association,” added Dr McMenamin.