As Daffodil Day approaches our airwaves fill with the usual topics: finding a consistent cause that can be eradicated; identifying a credible carcinogen that can be prevented, or just nailing a cure.
But despite the best research into cancer, which is just a generic term describing out-of-control cells in multiple locations, control of the disease remains frustratingly out of reach as seen by its ragbag’s flow-on effect to treatment and preventive strategies.
Take coffee for example. Does it prevent, cause or treat cancer? Maybe yes, probably yes and could be yes.
The latest research puts coffee back in favour as a preventive agent in a Cancer Network paper that identified half a dozen cancers we are less likely to acquire if we drink four or more cups a day. Pity some of the cancers are so rare (Glioma) that less than 500 people participated in the study. Bigger pity some are so specialised (Melanoma) the statistics could probably prove the cancer is related to whether you can swim freestyle … or not. Even bigger pity some are so common (prostate cancer) they could be linked to drinking coffee or not drinking coffee depending on the sample size of the study and the genetic make-up of the participants.
It may not be just the diversity in cancer that creates a divergence of opinion about the research evidence.
In a review of 13 cohort studies looking at 539,577 cancer patients (34,105 of whom suffered prostate cancer), coffee consumption could be associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer in general but an increased risk in those in the cohort who had non-advanced prostate cancer. Digging deeper into the study, geography further reveals a statistically significant protective influence of coffee on prostate cancer risk among European populations. – maybe it’s the coffee bean? Maybe it’s how it’s consumed?
Coffee, too, has its intricacies. It may not be just the diversity in cancer that creates a divergence of opinion about the research evidence. Like cancer, coffee is an overarching term for a brew-producing bean that contains numerous bioactive compounds. In addition, the method of preparation may affect its activity. For example, roasting degrades chlorogenic acids to form potent antioxidants and thus plays an important role in the preparation of high-antioxidant low-acid coffee.
It would appear then, that rather than searching for the unattainable, such as the cause and/or the cure for cancer, we could do well to adopt a model more like cardiovascular disease, which is never fully prevented nor cured and acknowledges the best we can do for our patients at this time is prolong life in a palatable way.