Increasing coffee consumption may help to stave off liver cancer, a new study suggests.
Researchers have found that people who drink more coffee are less likely to develop hepatocellular cancer (HCC), the most common form of primary liver cancer.
Even decaffeinated coffee can have a protective effect, they found.
Experts from the University of Southampton and the University of Edinburgh examined data from 26 studies involving more than 2.25 million participants.
Compared with people who drank no coffee, those who drank one cup had a 20% lower risk of developing HCC, according to the study, published in the journal BMJ Open.
Those who consumed two cups had a 35% reduced risk and for those who drank five cups, the risk was halved.
They even noted a protective effect for decaf, but added that this was “smaller and less certain than for caffeinated coffee”.
The authors wrote: “It may be important for developing coffee as a lifestyle intervention in CLD (chronic liver disease), as decaffeinated coffee might be more acceptable to those who do not drink coffee or who limit their coffee consumption because of caffeine-related symptoms.”
Lead author Dr Oliver Kennedy, of the University of Southampton, said: “Coffee is widely believed to possess a range of health benefits, and these latest findings suggest it could have a significant effect on liver cancer risk.
“We’re not suggesting that everyone should start drinking five cups of coffee a day though. There needs to be more investigation into the potential harms of high coffee-caffeine intake, and there is evidence it should be avoided in certain groups such as pregnant women.
“Nevertheless, our findings are an important development given the increasing evidence of HCC globally and its poor prognosis.”
Professor Peter Hayes, of the University of Edinburgh, added: “We have shown that coffee reduces cirrhosis and also liver cancer in a dose-dependent manner.
“Coffee has also been reported to reduce the risk of death from many other causes. Our research adds to the evidence that, in moderation, coffee can be a wonderful natural medicine.”
Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that in 2015, 4,673 new cases of liver cancer were diagnosed in England.