The correlation between caffeine, the density of breast tissues, and cancer is a complicated one. There are actually three individual correlations at play here—between caffeine and tissue density, between tissue density and breast cancer, and between caffeine and breast cancer. You would think that the first and second would automatically prove the third, but it is a little more tricky than that. First, let’s see what it actually means to have dense breast tissues.
Are your breasts dense?
There are basically two types of tissues in your breast, supportive tissue (fibrous and glandular tissues) and fatty tissue. If you have more supportive tissue than fatty tissue, your breasts are dense. You are more likely to have dense breasts if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or undergoing hormone replacement therapy. Younger people or people with a low body weight also tend to have dense breasts. Having more dense breast tissues than fatty ones is completely normal; in fact, most younger people have dense breasts. Now the main question is—does this matter?
Breast cancer risks
Although studies have shown that people with dense breasts have an increased risk of breast cancer, there seems to be no explanation as to why this is the case. There is also the risk of a wrong diagnosis. Mammograms of dense breasts are more difficult to read because both tumors and dense tissues show up white on mammograms, and it is troublesome to differentiate the two. But there is no evidence to show that the mortality rate is increased for breast cancer patients with dense breasts. It seems as though the breast density only matters before the diagnosis, after which there is no difference.
Caffeine and breast tissue density
Most studies conclude that the consumption of caffeine does not lead to an increase in breast tissue density. There was one study conducted in 2018 that found some interesting associations between drinking coffee and breast tissue density. The main takeaways from this study were that postmenopausal women with a higher coffee intake had lower breast density, while the opposite was true for premenopausal women. However, in 2020, another study showed that adolescent caffeine intake had nothing to do with premenopausal breast density.
Caffeine and breast cancer
It has been found that caffeine can actually suppress the formation of tumors and have anti-cancer properties. An initial study in the 1980s found that caffeine does not increase the risk of breast cancer, and subsequent studies have largely proved this. Studies in recent years have shown that while there does not seem to be any relation between caffeine intake and breast cancer in premenopausal women, the former reduces the risk of the latter in postmenopausal women. However, it is unclear why.
In conclusion: I am relieved
I love coffee and tea. I am never without a cup of either by my side. I was even nervously sipping black coffee while researching. When I found out that there is no evidence of caffeine increasing my risk of getting cancer, I heaved a sigh of relief and got myself another cup. (I am in no way condoning drinking coffee and tea all the time, that is definitely bad for you. Moderation in all things.)
There is definitely room for more research in this field. It would be helpful to know exactly why dense breast tissues lead to an increased risk of breast cancer, and why postmenopausal women benefit from a regular caffeine intake. But until then, you can be comfortable in the knowledge that you don’t have to change your caffeine habits to reduce your risk of breast cancer!
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