New research indicates that drinking coffee lowers the risk of developing cancer of the oral cavity or throat, at least in the general population of Japan.

The consumption of coffee in Japan is relatively high, as is the rate of cancer of the esophagus in men. To look into any protective effect of coffee drinking, Dr. Toru Naganuma of Tohoku University, Sendai, and colleagues, analyzed data from the population-based Miyagi Cohort Study in Japan.

The study included information about diet, including coffee consumption. Among more than 38,000 study participants aged 40 to 64 years with no prior history of cancer, 157 cases of cancer of the mouth, pharynx and esophagus occurred during 13 years of follow up.

Compared with people who did not drink coffee, those who drank one or more cups per day had half the risk of developing these cancers, Naganuma's group reports in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

They note that the reduction in risk included people who are at high risk for these cancers, namely, those who were current drinkers and/or smokers at the start of the study.

"We had not expected that we could observe such a substantial inverse association with coffee consumption and the risk of these cancers," Naganuma commented to Reuters Health, "and the inverse association in high-risk groups for these cancers as well."

The researchers conclude in their article, "Although cessation of alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking is currently the best known way to help reduce the risk of developing these cancers, coffee could be a preventive factor in both low-risk and high-risk populations."