Coffee may reduce some women's risk of breast cancer

A small, survey-based study finds an encouraging link between coffee consumption and reduced risk for the disease.


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Page Rockwell
January 11, 2006 3:30AM (UTC)

Just when we were resolving to drink less coffee this year, here comes a study from the University of Toronto saying coffee consumption can drastically reduce women's risk of breast cancer.

The finding isn't quite cause for rejoicing yet -- it still has to be confirmed by larger studies. And it applies only to women with BRCA genetic mutations that put them at greatly increased risk for the disease. But since that's pretty much like saying that this discovery will affect only those who need it most, we're going to go ahead and get a little bit excited.

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Researchers surveyed 1,690 women who had either the BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 mutation, half of whom had cancer and half of whom didn't. After adjusting for factors like age, oral contraceptive use, number of births and smoking, the researchers found that participants' cancer risk decreased in proportion to the amount of coffee they drank. Participants who drank one to three cups a day were 10 percent less likely to get breast cancer, and those who drank four to five cups saw a 25 percent reduction of risk.

Drinking six or more cups cut participants' risk by an average of 69 percent.

As to why this might be: Caffeine helps the body break down estrogen, and may thereby preventing the hormone from stimulating the disease. Plus, coffee is a source of phytoestrogen, which is thought to have a protective effect against cancer.

Doctors won't start recommending increased coffee consumption to BCRA patients just yet. Still, it seems safe to predict that Starbucks will gear up for a big breast-cancer awareness push this year.


Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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