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Caffeine Does Not Cause Breast Cancer

We've completed a detailed review of the major published research summaries concerning possible links between breast cancer and caffeine, at the U.S. National Library of Medicine's web-site. The Harvard study summarized and linked below is especially interesting.

Here is what has determined, in an easy-to-understand form, without all of the usual scientific mumbo-jumbo:

The first researcher to ascribe an association between caffeine intake and breast cancer made the claim in a paper published in 1979. The author, Minton, did studies on laboratory rats and breast cancer. Over the next few years, he published several more similar studies on rats and breast cancer. He linked the rat breast cancer to both high caffeine intakes and un-saturated fat intakes (more recent research consistently contradicts the un-saturated link -- many studies concluding that un-saturated vegetable fats actually tend to decrease risks for breast cancer among humans). His research immediately stimulated research around the world on these issues. Some have criticized his rat studies as having been based on an inaccurate application of statistical analysis methods -- in short, bad science. That might explain why no human studies have shown similar results.

Since Minton, thousands of researchers have studied links between dietary factors and breast cancer. Here is what they have found:

  1. Many large studies of humans have concluded that there is no consistent relation at all, either positive or negative, between intakes of caffeine and breast cancer. The country that drinks the most coffee per person per year is Sweden, followed by Italy. An extremely large study of 59,000 women in Sweden for many years showed that coffee drinkers and breast cancer are NOT related. This study totalled over 500,000 woman-years. Another study of over 5,000 women in Italy showed the same thing.

  2. There does appear to be a correlation in some women with a particular kind of inherited gene formation between fibrocystic breast disease (FBD) and caffeine. While being painful, fibrocystic disease is not cancerous, but sometimes becomes so. However, after the fibrocystic condition happens in patients, there is in fact no correlation that shows any relation that caffeine has in contributing to FBD progression into cancer. Women who drink lots of coffee and tea are not any more likely to have existing FBD develop into cancer. This is most interesting. This may mean that caffeine may be INHIBITING the cancer development for some women, even though it may have helped give them fibrocystic disease. We know that caffeine does have a mild cancer-killing or tumor-growth slowing effect when combined with certain medicines. Recent genetic studies show that this effect differs among women with different genetic makeups.

  3. Caffeine acts to potentiate anti-cancer chemotherapy. When given as an adjunctive "helper" to patients receiving chemotherapy, the tumors grow even more slowly or die faster. This is strongly supported by many large and well designed studies.

  4. A new breast cancer follow-up, concerning the famous Nurses Health Study over the last 22 years, was just completed by Harvard University, to be published in the May edition of the International Journal of Cancer. The paper was written by the Dept. of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, in Boston. This study involved over 85,000 female nurses, and is still going on. So far, this study has covered over 1,700,000 woman-years. This is the most respected and important study of women's health issues ever performed by anyone anywhere. The latest news about these women is that breast cancer among these women is NOT significantly associated (positively or negatively) with caffeine consumption, or coffee, tea or even decaffeinated forms of the beverage consumption. In fact, there is a very small NEGATIVE association that happens after menopause.

You can read the Harvard report summary by clicking the link below (the Harvard 22 year Nurses Study follow-up will be first on the list that comes up):

>> Coffee, tea, caffeine and risk of breast cancer: a 22-year follow-up
Published in Int J Cancer, 2008 May 1;122(9):2071-6 (an electronic summary ahead of the print issue). Written by Ganmaa D, Willett WC, Li TY, Feskanich D, van Dam RM, Lopez-Garcia E, Hunter DJ, Holmes MD. Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA 02115, USA.

Overall, the most important factors associated with increased risks for breast cancer appear to be:
  1. Female gender
  2. Age
  3. Menopausal status
  4. Family history of breast cancer (inherited genetic factors)
  5. Reproductive history (previous pregnancy history) and marital status
  6. Presence of other cancers, especially ovarian
  7. Radiation exposure
  8. Use of estrogen replacement therapy
  9. High consumption of saturated fats
  10. High alcohol consumption
Factors that have NOT been proven related to risks for breast cancer include caffeine consumption, smoking and stress.

Other factors are yet to be determined. Breast cancer continues to be one of the most researched topics among scientists around the world.

If you or a relative or loved one has breast cancer or fibrocystic breast disease, or if your doctor has discussed risks for cancer with you, you may find reading through the 88 reports linked above at the NIH site interesting.

* All information on is for educational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Before changing your diet, or adding supplements to your diet, or beginning an exercise program, everyone should consult a qualified and licensed health practitioner; a physician, dietician or similar professional.

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