In a new study, researchers from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute report that regular caffeinated coffee intake may be associated with significantly reduced cancer recurrence and improved survival in patients with stage 3 colon cancer.

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The researchers found that consuming four or more cups of coffee a day led to the greatest reduction in colon cancer recurrence risk.

The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, found that the greatest benefit came from consuming four or more cups of coffee a day.

“We found that coffee drinkers had a lower risk of the cancer coming back and a significantly greater survival and chance of a cure,” says lead author Charles Fuchs, director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Center at Dana-Farber.

On average, Americans drink around three cups of coffee a day, with 54% of Americans over the age of 18 consuming coffee every day. Such is the prevalence of this hot drink, it is unsurprising that a lot of research has been conducted investigating the effect that coffee has on the body.

Coffee consumption is frequently linked to a wide range of medical conditions. In the past few months, Medical News Today have reported on studies suggesting coffee consumption could raise the risk of mild cognitive impairment and reduce the risk of erectile dysfunction.

Perhaps more relevant to the current study is one published in April claiming that women diagnosed with breast cancer who are taking the drug tamoxifen could halve their risk of recurrence by drinking at least two cups a day.

According to the authors, previous observational studies have found colon cancer is more likely to recur in people with higher-than-expected levels of insulin, as well as associating increased coffee consumption with a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes and increased insulin sensitivity.

However, the effect of coffee consumption on colon cancer survival and recurrence is unknown, they write.

For the prospective study, 953 patients with stage 3 colon cancer completed dietary pattern questionnaires during and 6 months after receiving chemotherapy. The researchers specifically focused on the influence of coffee, nonherbal tea and caffeine on cancer recurrence and mortality.

They found that patients who drank four or more cups of coffee a day – around 460 milligrams of caffeine – were 42% less likely to have their cancer recur than patients who did not drink coffee at all. Those who regularly drank four or more cups of coffee were also 33% less likely to die from cancer or any other cause during the follow-up period.

Further analysis of their results suggested that the lower cancer risk was attributable to the amount of caffeine consumed by the patients rather than other components of the coffee.

The precise mechanism behind these findings is currently unknown, although the researchers suggest it may be that caffeine consumption increases insulin sensitivity. This means that less insulin is required by the body, potentially reducing inflammation – a risk factor for both cancer and diabetes.

As the study is an observational one, the researchers are reticent to make recommendations about coffee consumption until their findings have been validated by further research.

“If you are a coffee drinker and are being treated for colon cancer, don’t stop,” says Fuchs. “But if you’re not a coffee drinker and wondering whether to start, you should first discuss it with your physician.”

Instead, Fuchs states that there are other measures that are proven to reduce the risk of cancer. These include avoiding obesity, following a healthy diet and regularly exercising – all of which also reduce the risk of diabetes.

Another study recently found that the risk of colon cancer could be reduced in overweight people with a regular dose of aspirin, counteracting the increased risk caused by having a high body mass index (BMI).