Lead author Janet Hildebrand, an epidemiologist and population expert with the American Cancer Society, and colleagues analyzed coffee and tea consumption among people enrolled in the Cancer Prevention Study II, a study begun in 1982 by the American Cancer Society.
Among 968,432 men and women who were cancer-free at enrollment, 868 died from oral/pharyngeal cancer during the 26 years of follow-up, Hildebrand said.
The study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found drinking more than four cups of caffeinated coffee a day was linked to a 49 percent lower risk of oral/pharyngeal cancer death compared to drinking no coffee or only an occasional cup.
No significant link was found for decaffeinated coffee, and no link at all for tea, the study said.
Coffee contains antioxidants, polyphenols and other compounds that may help to protect against development or progression of cancer, but the strongest risk factors for oral/pharyngeal cancer are tobacco, alcohol use and the human papillomavirus.