British Coffee Association - Cancer


The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has recently (June 2016) published its review into the scientific evidence related to coffee and cancer, announcing that it has classified coffee in Group 3 for agents ‘not classifiable as to carcinogenicity to humans’. This means that the extensive scientific literature does not show an association between coffee consumption and cancer.1

The recent study (June 2016) was conducted by scientists at the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).  Their conclusions are based on an extensive body of scientific studies over the past 20 years into the health properties of coffee.  This was the first such review since 1991 to look at and draw conclusions from the whole body of scientific opinion around the world.1

The announcement by IARC follows an earlier review (2015) by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) on caffeine consumption. That concluded up to five cups of coffee a day does not give rise to health concerns for most people.  For pregnant women it concluded 2-3 cups of coffee should not cause concern.2

Prior to the above the World Cancer Research Fund published a comprehensive review of diet and cancer in which it stated that `most evidence suggests that regular consumption of coffee and/or tea has no significant relationship with the risk of cancer’ 3.

When additional lifestyle factors such as smoking are accounted for, the overwhelming scientific evidence shows that moderate coffee consumption (four to five cups per day) does not increase the risk of any type of cancer, including cancer of the breast, kidney, bladder, pancreas, ovaries, colon and rectum4,5,6,7,8,9. A recent study published in 2015 found that individuals being treated with stage three colon cancer and who drank 4 or more cups of coffee a day were 42% less likely to see their cancer return and were 33% less likely to die from cancer10.

A large study of almost 43,000 people conducted in Norway, one of the largest consumers of coffee per capita, also found no association between coffee consumption and overall risk of cancer11. Furthermore, a review of results from studies conducted over the past two decades concludes that the amount of caffeine as usually consumed in coffee, does not have genotoxic or mutagenic (causes mutations to the DNA), or carcinogenic (cancer causing) effects12.


Thousands of research projects have been carried out to investigate any links between coffee consumption and the development of cancer. The overwhelming scientific evidence shows that moderate coffee consumption, of 4 to 5 cups per day, can contribute to a healthy, balanced diet for the general population and may provide health benefits. Pregnant women should however moderate their intake following the guidelines issued by the Food Standards Agency, to 200mg caffeine per day (up to 3 cups of coffee) from all sources.

More information on coffee and the associated health benefits can be found on the ‘Coffee and Health’ section of this site.

  1. World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer. June 2016. Available from  
  2.   EFSA (2015) Scientific Opinion on the Safety of Caffeine. EFSA Journal, 13(5):4102.
  3. WCRF: Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective, 2007. Available from:
  4. Fagherazzi, G. et al. Public Health Nutrition, 2011; DOI:10.1017/S1368980011000371.
  5. Yu, X. et al. Coffee consumption and risk of cancers: a meta-analysis of cohort studies. BMC Cancer 2011, 11:96. Doi:10.1186/1471-2407-11-96.
  6.  Li J. et al. Breast Cancer Research, 2011; 13: R49doi:10.1186/bcr2879. Wilson K.M., et al. JCNI, 2011; DOI: 10.1093/jnci/djr151.
  7. Lee JE. International Journal of Cancer, Volume 15, 2007.
  8. Zeegers MPA. Cancer Causes and Control, Volume 12, 2001.
  9. Steevens J, et al. Tea and coffee drinking and ovarian cancer risk: results from the Netherlands Cohort Study and a meta-analysis. Br J Cancer, 2007; 97:1291–4.
  10. B J Guercio et al. Coffee intake, recurrence, and mortality in stage III colon cancer: Results from CALGB 89803 (Alliance), Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2015; doi: 10.1200/JCO.2015.61.5062
  11.  Stensvold I and Jacobsen BK. Cancer Causes and Control, Volume 5, 1994.
  12. Nehig A and Debry G. World Review of Nutrition and Diabetes, Volume 79, 1996.