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What We Know About Cancer Risk and Coffee

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Coffee beans are seen in a roaster at a stand at the Coffee Fair in Lima, Peru. VOA
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Trouble is brewing for coffee lovers in California, where a judge ruled that sellers must post scary warnings about cancer risks. But how frightened should we be of a daily cup of joe? Not very, some scientists and available evidence seem to suggest.

Scientific concerns about coffee have eased in recent years, and many studies even suggest it can help health.

“At the minimum, coffee is neutral. If anything, there is fairly good evidence of the benefit of coffee on cancer,” said Dr. Edward Giovannucci, a nutrition expert at the Harvard School of Public Health.

The World Health Organization’s cancer agency moved coffee off the “possible carcinogen” list two years ago, though it says evidence is insufficient to rule out any possible role.

ALSO READ: International Coffee Day: Let’s Debunk Some Coffee Myths

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Roasting beans naturally produces a carcinogen called acrylamide. A California judge found that companies must warn their consumers. VOA

The current flap isn’t about coffee itself, but a chemical called acrylamide that’s made when the beans are roasted. Government agencies call it a probable or likely carcinogen, based on animal research, and a group sued to require coffee sellers to warn of that under a California law passed by voters in 1986.

The problem: No one knows what levels are safe or risky for people. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets acrylamide limits for drinking water, but there aren’t any for food.

“A cup of coffee a day, exposure probably is not that high,” and probably should not change your habit, said Dr. Bruce Y. Lee of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “If you drink a lot of cups a day, this is one of the reasons you might consider cutting that down.”

Here’s what’s known about the risks.

ALSO READ: A Pilgrim Smuggled Coffee Beans To India: The Intriguing History behind the Development of Coffee Culture

Drinking Coffee reduces mortality in Kidney patients
Drinking reduces mortality in Kidney patients. Pixabay

The chemical

Start with the biggest known risk factor for cancer — smoking — which generates acrylamide. In the diet, French fries, potato chips, crackers, cookies, cereal and other high-carbohydrate foods contain it as a byproduct of roasting, baking, toasting or frying.

Food and Drug Administration tests of acrylamide levels found they ranged from 175 to 351 parts per billion (a measure of concentration for a contaminant) for six brands of coffee tested; the highest was for one type of decaf coffee crystals. By comparison, French fries at one fast-food chain ranged from 117 to 313 parts per billion, depending on the location tested. Some commercial fries had more than 1,000.

Even some baby foods contain acrylamide, such as teething biscuits and crackers. One brand of organic sweet potatoes tested as having 121 parts per billion.

What’s the risk?

The “probable” or “likely” carcinogen label is based on studies of animals given high levels of acrylamide in drinking water. But people and rodents absorb the chemical at different rates and metabolize it differently, so its relevance to human health is unknown.

A group of 23 scientists convened by the WHO’s cancer agency in 2016 looked at coffee — not acrylamide directly — and decided coffee was unlikely to cause breast, prostate or pancreatic cancer, and that it seemed to lower the risks for liver and uterine cancers. Evidence was inadequate to determine its effect on dozens of other cancer types.

ALSO READ: Californian Court Warns “Coffee Causes Cancer!”

Since 1986, businesses have been required to post warnings about chemicals known to cause cancer or other health risks — more than 900 substances are on the state’s list today — but what’s a “significant” risk is arguable.

Sellers and other defendants in the lawsuit that spurred Thursday’s ruling have a couple of weeks to challenge it or appeal.

bulletproof coffee
The law “has potential to do much more harm than good to public health,” by confusing people into thinking risks from something like the drink are similar to those from smoking, Giovannucci said. Pixabay

The International Food Information Council and Foundation, an organization funded mostly by the food and beverage industry, says the law is confusing the public because it doesn’t note levels of risk, and adds that U.S. dietary guidelines say up to five cups of coffee a day can be part of a healthy diet.

Dr. Otis Brawley, the American Cancer Society’s chief medical officer, said, “The issue here is dose, and the amount of acrylamide that would be included in coffee, which is really very small, compared to the amount from smoking tobacco. I don’t think we should be worried about a cup of coffee.”

Amy Trenton-Dietz, public health specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the California ruling contrasts with what science shows.

“Studies in humans suggest that, if anything, coffee is protective for some types of cancer,” she said. “As long as people are not putting a lot of sugar or sweeteners in, tea and water are the best things for people to be drinking.” VOA

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New Drug to Give Hopes to Bone Marrow Cancer Patients

It reduced the risk of progression or death by more than 50 per cent in both groups

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Cancer
Cancer Ribbon. Pixabay

A therapeutic drug has been found to improve outcomes and survival rates for patients with a serious type of bone marrow cancer.

In a clinical trial by researchers at Newcastle University in Britain, patients with newly diagnosed myeloma were treated with a drug called lenalidomide.

The results, published in the journal The Lancet Oncology, showed an improvement for those who received lenalidomide drug, compared to those not receiving it.

“This is a major breakthrough as it shows that the long-term use of lenalidomide significantly improves the time myeloma patients stay in remission after initial therapy,” said Professor Graham Jackson from the Northern Institute for Cancer Research at Newcastle.

Myeloma is a cancer of the plasma cells and it can affect several areas of the body, such as the spine, skull, pelvis and ribs. Current treatment usually involves chemotherapy and a stem-cell transplant.

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New drug offers hope for bone marrow cancer patients. Pixabay

“It is a huge step and, importantly, identifies that for younger patients lenalidomide improves their overall survival for this difficult-to-treat bone marrow cancer,” Jackson said.

“Our research highlights that lenalidomide should be considered for newly diagnosed patients following stem-cell transplantation,” he added.

As part of the study, a total of 1,137 newly diagnosed patients were randomly assigned to lenalidomide maintenance therapy and 834 patients to observation – this was after they completed their initial treatment.

Also Read- Narendra Modi Accuses Congress of Aiding Those Who Want to Weaken Army

The results show that lenalidomide can prolong the average remission time by more than two years in younger patients and by well over a year in older, less fit patients.

It reduced the risk of progression or death by more than 50 per cent in both groups. (IANS)