Drinking coffee may be associated with a lower risk of developing hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) -- the most common type of liver cancer, a study claims.
Researchers from Queen's University Belfast in Northern Ireland noted that coffee is one of the most commonly consumed beverages worldwide.
Previous research has shown there are many health benefits of drinking coffee, which may be due to its high levels of antioxidants, they said.
The study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, took place in the UK over 7.5 years and looked at the coffee-drinking habits of 471,779 participants in the UK Biobank, one of the largest studies of middle-aged individuals in the world.
The findings suggested a reduced risk of hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common form of liver cancer, in coffee drinkers compared to those who did not drink coffee.
"This is one of the first studies to investigate the risk of digestive cancers according to different types of coffee and we found that the risk of HCC was just as low in people who drank mostly instant coffee, the type most commonly drank in the UK."
"We need much more research to determine the possible biological reasons behind this association," said McMenamin.
Over three quarters of participants reported drinking coffee and compared to those who did not drink coffee, drinkers were more likely to be older, male, from less deprived areas and have higher education levels.
They were also more likely to be previous or current smokers, consume higher levels of alcohol, have high cholesterol and were less likely to have chronic conditions such as diabetes, cirrhosis, gallstones, and peptic ulcers compared with non-coffee drinkers.
After taking these factors into account, the researchers found that coffee drinkers were 50 per cent less likely to develop HCC compared to those who did not drink coffee.
Lead author Kim Tu Tran, postgraduate research student at Queen's University Belfast said: "People with a coffee-drinking habit could find keeping that habit going is good for their health."
"That is because coffee contains antioxidants and caffeine, which may protect against cancer. However, drinking coffee is not as protective against liver cancer as stopping smoking, cutting down on alcohol or losing weight," Tran said.
The researchers noted that findings for liver cancer are consistent with the evidence from the World Cancer Research Fund's report which concluded that there is 'probable' evidence to suggest that coffee drinking lowers the risk of liver cancer.
The rates of liver cancer have risen by 60 per cent in the UK in the last decade, the researchers noted.
They also investigated other digestive cancers, such as bowel and stomach, but found no consistent links with coffee drinking.