Scientists who reported an apparent link between coffee and cancer of the pancreas five years ago have published new research that disputes their earlier findings.
In 1981, a research team led by Dr. Brian MacMahon of the Harvard School of Public Health published a study concluding that people who drink a cup or two of coffee a day are nearly twice as likely to get pancreatic cancer as those who do not drink coffee. At the time, their research methods were criticized by some, and follow-up studies by other groups did not find a strong association between coffee and cancer.
The team's latest study, published as a letter in the current issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, found no increased cancer risk for people who drink less than five cups a day. For those who consumed more than that, the results were less clear. Men who drank five or more cups a day had nearly 2 1/2 times the usual risk of pancreatic cancer, but there was no statistically significant increase in risk among women.
MacMahon noted that the latest research turned up no evidence of a gradual increase in risk as consumption rose. Such a trend would be expected if coffee truly caused cancer.
"I think the association is almost certainly not as strong as we originally found it," he said. "But whether there is an association at all is still an open question."