Does Coffee Prevent or Cause Cancer?

Written by Lissa Rankin, MD of Owning Pink

It’s not just cell phones the WHO calls carcinogens. Now, according to this article, they’ve added coffee and pickled veggies to the list as well.

Most of us aren’t chowing down regularly on pickled veggies, so I’m guessing this finding won’t wind up all over Twitter and Facebook. But, uh…coffee? How ‘bout that cup a joe, love?

Both coffee and pickled vegetables have been labeled as 2B carcinogens, the same designation cell phones were given this week, which they share with DDT, chloroform, and gasoline exhaust. According to the WHO report, coffee has been linked to bladder cancer. On the flip side, coffee has been associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer and colon cancer, just to confuse the heck out of us.

What do these carcinogen labels really mean?
Well, group 1 carcinogens are known, without a doubt, to cause cancer. This group includes things like UV radiation from the sun (which causes melanoma) and smoking (which causes lung cancer, in addition to many other cancers). Group 2A include substances believed to be “probable” carcinogens- things like working as a hairdresser, indoor emissions from combustion of wood and other biomass fuel, and shift work that disrupts circadian rhythm.

So 2B carcinogens are even weaker, meaning, uh…maybe.

What does this mean for coffee drinkers?
When I tweeted about the 2B designation for cell phones and cancer, someone tweeted “Everything causes cancer, so we might as well relax.” And frankly, I’m inclined to agree! We know certain activities – like eating lots of fresh veggies, buying organic produce, meats, and dairy, consuming green juice, and avoiding processed foods – are likely to decrease our risk of cancer. So add more good stuff. Eliminate the bad stuff.

We also know that coffee is a very acidic drink, and eating an alkaline diet can be cancer-protective, since cancer hates an alkaline environment and loves an acidic one. (FYI – fruits, veggies, and some grains are alkaline; coffee, meat, cheese, and alcohol are acidic).

We know that wearing sunscreen, getting Pap smears, mammograms, PSA testing, and colonoscopies can help prevent cancer. So why not do what we know we can do to prevent cancer? We can follow these 8 ways to protect ourselves from the possible risk of cell phones. We can cut back on the grande cappuccino with the extra shot. We can take supplements that support our health, avoid smoking, limit alcohol, and steer clear of chemicals in the environment.

Must we give up everything we love to avoid cancer?
This morning, I was interviewed for an upcoming Glamour article about the link between oral cancer and oral sex. And then there’s the link between intercourse and cervical cancer.

Was the guy on Twitter right? Is it impossible to protect ourselves from cancer?  Right now, 3 of my friends are battling late stage cancer diagnoses (which inspired me to write Damn You, Cancer. So this is clear and present on my mind.

And yet, I choose not to live in fear of cancer.

It’s a fine balance – to do what you can to protect yourself, and then, ultimately, surrender to whatever will be and release anxiety and fear.

So what will I do?
Well, I don’t drink coffee. I drink green juice instead. And I use my cell phone an average of about 2 minutes per day (I’m an emailer). But I’m definitely gonna keep giving and receiving oral sex (TMI?) We all have our limits…

So what do you think? Will you keep chug-a-lugging your latte? Will you keep gabbing away on your cell phone an hour a day? Will you give up blow jobs? Do you eat organic? Are you a smoker?

How do we reduce our risk of cancer without being stress monsters who have to give up everything we love? Join the conversation!

Refusing to live in fear,


Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of, Pink Medicine Woman coach, motivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.

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  1. HealthyVoyager says

    Coffee’s benefits and detriments walk a fine line. The author of this article is an MD so it’s all based on her own scientific research and medical practice/experience ; )

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