Colon cancer is in the news these days. A few weeks ago Chadwick Boseman passed away in his early 40’s of metastatic colon cancer. In one fell swoop, his tragic passing highlighted three traits of colon cancer: 1) Colon cancer is increasing in younger Americans aged 20-50. 2) Black Americans are more likely to get cancer at earlier ages, with more aggressive disease and 3) death from colon cancer is preventable.
This week, there is some good news mingled within what is in really bad news. That drinking coffee prolongs survival in patients with metastatic colon cancer. In a study (only available in abstract if you’re unwilling to pay the $30 for the full text) was being done in context with another trial at Dana Farber, a Harvard program in oncology. The first author is a fourth-year medical student from the Mayo Clinic, Christopher Mackintosh. While studying the effects of two different drugs on metastatic colon cancer, they also studied lifestyle habits. It turned out that drinking 4 cups of coffee was better than drinking one cup and drinking one cup was better than drinking none at all in terms of overall survival and progression free survival. Of course the sad part is that 1092 of 1171 patients (93%) had died or had disease progression in the 5.4 yr median follow-up time. That’s the bad news. However, those who drank 4 cups had a hazard ratio for overall survival at 0.64 and progression free survival of 0.78. That means they had a 36% and 22% respectively improvement in their outcome. This was irrespective of caffeinated or decaffeinated.
I’ve been on a personal soap box for the years I’ve been on FOX 7 Austin to report when I see good evidence of the benefits of coffee. Let me observe there is going to be a reporting bias in there for sure. But the evidence I see that coffee has health benefits is undeniable. I’m partial to coffee for many reasons. First and foremost, I love it! I am not a coffee addict. I don’t get headaches and if I don’t get a cup in the morning, I will be just fine. Didn’t get one this morning. My favorite order is plain drip with 2 creams and a Splenda. My family grew up drinking coffee, it is a part of my culture. If anyone stops by your house, they can’t leave until you give them a cup of coffee. My current favorite way to have coffee is at home on the weekends when we have a chance to make our coffee with our French Press grinding the beans freshly.
What bugs me about things is that coffee gets a very bad rap! At work in our intake forms, there is a space for Social History and all the vices that people engage in. Smoking. Drinking. Coffee intake. I mean, like when does coffee get lumped in with smoking and drinking? Both of which can be fun in the right context but neither of which is healthy in the wrong context. There is good evidence that coffee reduces the risk of several health ailments: reduced risk of gallstones, reduced risk of suicide, and in patients with alcoholic liver disease it improves the liver. (Probably why everybody was smoking and drinking coffee at the AA meetings I had to attend as part of my Psychiatry rotation in medical school). There is an improvement in Parksinson’s disease. It might improve your cholesterol, but the jury is still out on that one. And it’s warm, and it’s a little bitter, and there’s caffeine in it that juices you up just a little energy weeny bit. I think it’s perfect.
The official party line is that while the authors do not recommend those who do not drink coffee to start, they want to reassure those that are drinking coffee, that they can continue to enjoy it without worrying that it will exacerbate their condition.
My take on it is: if you have metastatic colon cancer, try coffee! It’s freaking awesome and you might like it! It comes in all shapes and sizes. A little cup of Espresso! A Grande, Iced, Sugar-Free, Vanilla Latte with Soy Milk. It’s pretty good.