Coffee probably prevents liver cancer

27 March 2015 | Science and research

In the third in a series of blogs about our research into the links between diet, weight, physical activity and liver cancer, former Health Information Officer Sharon Hui considers the latest findings about coffee.

Our new Continuous Update Project (CUP) report shows that drinking coffee is linked to a decreased risk of liver cancer. So what does the research tell us, and what can you do with this information?

Coffee o’clock?

Britain's love of coffee only ever seems to get stronger. In fact, according to the British Coffee Association, it is the most popular drink worldwide and in the UK we drink approximately 70 millions cups of coffee every day. Data published in our CUP report shows new, strong evidence that drinking coffee may decrease the risk of liver cancer. The research shows about a 14 per cent decreased risk of liver cancer for each cup a day. It is not possible to predict the exact risk for a specific number of cups of coffee. You may also have seen recent news suggesting that drinking a moderate amount of coffee could reduce the risk of other diseases, such as heart attacks and Type 2 diabetes. And our earlier CUP report showed that coffee consumption may reduce the risk of womb cancer. Our liver cancer report adds to the evidence that coffee might have benefits for our health. So, should we all be drinking more lattes and cappuccinos? 

We spill the beans

Unfortunately, there are still too many unanswered questions for us to provide reliable advice on coffee drinking and cancer risk. To prevent weight gain, if you want to have a coffee, it’s wise to choose unsweetened versions with skimmed or semi-skimmed milk. But when it comes to liver cancer risk, although there’s strong evidence that coffee may be beneficial, we don’t know why. We all drink coffee in different ways and it could be how much you drink, how regularly, the type of coffee or what you add to it that has an effect. The evidence just doesn’t show the full picture yet, but it’s an area of research we are interested in. We also need to be sure that there are no harmful effects for other cancers or conditions before giving evidence-based recommendations.

What other findings were there in the report?

The report also identifies strong evidence of two other factors that increase the risk of liver cancer - being overweight or obese, and drinking more than three alcoholic drinks a day. In fact, scientists estimate that if everyone maintained a healthy weight and did not drink alcohol, around one in four cases of liver cancer could be prevented in the UK. That’s 1,100 cases that could be avoided every year.

What can I do?

There are plenty of small steps you can take today to lower your cancer risk. If you would like to eat or drink more healthily, we have lots of resources to help support you.

Sharon Hui | 27 March 2015