Can Coffee Reduce Breast Cancer from Returning?

Due to the recent news of Angelina Jolie undergoing a preventative double mastectomy after learning that she carries a mutation of the BRCA1 gene (which sharply increases her risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer), I think its important to share some new research regarding breast cancer and caffeine.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women, except for skin cancers.  About 1 in 8 women in the US will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime.

The American Cancer Society’s estimates for breast cancer in the US are for 2013:

  • About 232,340 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women.
  • About 64,640 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS) will be diagnosed (CIS is non-invasive and is the earliest form of breast cancer).
  • About 39,620 women will die from breast cancer.

Death rates from breast cancer have been declining since 1989, with larger decrease in women younger than 50.  These decreases believed to be the result of earlier detection through screening and increased awareness, as well as improved treatment.

At this time there are more than 2.9 million breast cancer survivors in the US.  These numbers include women being treated and those who have completed treatment.

Recently researchers have found that after breast cancer diagnosis, daily coffee consumption may reduce the risk of developing it again.  They believe that coffee enhances Tamoxifen’s ability to prevent estrogen-fed cancer from growing.

Tamoxifen is a drug used to treat breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, to treat breast cancer in certain patients after surgery and radiation therapy, and to reduce the chances of breast cancer in high-risk patients.

According to WebMD, “This medication can block the growth of breast cancer.  It works by interfering with the effects of estrogen in the breast tissue.” states the following statistics about what Tamoxifen can do:

  • Reduce the risk of breast cancer coming back by 40-50% in postmenopausal women and by 30-50% in premenopausal women.
  • Reduce the risk of a new cancer developing in the other breast by 50%.
  • Shrink large, hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers before surgery.
  • Slow or stop the growth or advanced (metastatic) hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer in both pre- and postmenopausal women.
  • Lower breast cancer risk in women who have high than average risk of disease but have not been diagnosed.

The Lund University in Sweden has found that drinking coffee can decrease the risk of breast cancer recurring in patients taking Tamoxifen.  It was reported that patients who took the pill, along with two or more cups of coffee a day, had a 50% lower risk of cancer recurrence, compared to those who did not drink coffee while taking Tamoxifen.

“One theory we are working with is that coffee ‘activates’ Tamoxifen and makes it more efficient,” says Maria Simonsson, doctoral student in Oncology at Lund University.

In another study, it was found that drinking coffee daily reduces the risk of anti-estrogen-resistant estrogen-receptor (ER)-negative breast cancer.  This research was published in BioMed Central’s open access journal Breast Cancer Research.

Hormone-receptor-negative breast cancers are cancers that do have receptors for the hormones estrogen or progesterone.  Hormone-receptor-negative breast cancers are less common than hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers and tend to be more aggressive.

While it is evident that coffee may have beneficial effects in protecting women from ER-negative breast cancer, the exact mechanism and compounds involved are not yet clear and not all types of coffee are the same. lists the following facts about coffee and breast cancer:

  • In premenopausal women, the consumption of regular coffee (4 cups a day) has been associated with a 38% lower risk of breast cancer.
  • In premenopausal women at high risk because they carry the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation, the risk for breast cancer is reduced by 25-70% with daily consumption of 4-6 cups of coffee compared to non-coffee drinkers.
  • The risk of breast cancer is also modulated by the CYP1A2 gene and the interaction between coffee consumption and the polymorphisms A and C of this gene.  Women carrying at least one C allele (AC or CC), who consume coffee, have a 64% reduced risk compared to non-coffee drinkers.

The latest observational study involving coffee’s role in cancer prevention and treatment underlines the need for more research, according to Lund University.

All of the above research shows how beneficial coffee can be if added to one’s diet, however, remember everything in moderation. It is also important to note what you are putting in your coffee.

“By adding high-calorie creamers and heaping spoonfuls of sugar, calories quickly add up making it a less healthy beverage choice,” stated Lauren Regina, Clinical Oncology Nutritionist at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America.