Wednesday, September 26, 2012

If Andy Williams Drank Tea Would He Still Be Alive?

Today, legendary singer Andy Williams (age 84) died of bladder cancer, a condition he announced being diagnosed with less than one year ago (November 2011).  He had received chemotherapy treatment. One of the first things people ask when finding out that someone they know (or know of) has died of an illness, is what the signs and symptoms were and if it could have been prevented.

For most people, bladder cancer presents with blood in the urine, a sure sign that something is wrong and that you need to see a doctor ASAP. However, the blood is sometimes only detected microscopically, which is why regular check-ups with the doctor are important because periodic urine analysis studies are typically ordered.  Painful and frequent urination are also symptoms of bladder cancer as is a feeling that one has to urinate but being unable to when trying.  It is worth noting, however, that bladder cancer is only one of many reasons why someone can experience these signs and symptoms, some of which are more serious than others (e.g., dehydration, kidney stones, urinary tract infection).

Diagnosis of bladder cancer is typically made via a biopsy of selected tissue. At this time, there is no clearly effective screening test for bladder cancer. Thus, the focus turns to prevention. Some risk factors are controllable such as smoking and not exposing yourself to harmful toxic chemicals such as arsenic and those used in various manufacturing plants (e.g., paints and dyes). However, many of the factors are beyond one’s control such as genetics and being an old white guy. That may sound humorous but indeed, old age, being white, and being male are all factors that increase one’s risk of bladder cancer.

As a result of such incontrollable factors, people often try to turn to diet to tip the odds back in their favor. Enter the world of tea consumption, which has been touted as being able to prevent bladder cancer. Individual studies on the topic have been inconsistent. When this happens, one of the best ways to gain more clarity on the subject is to perform a meta-analysis. In a meta-analysis, the researcher examines all of the best studies available on a particular topic, treats each study as if it was a research subject, and looks to see if the claimed intervention is actually effective.

A new meta-analysis on this topic was recently published in the World Journal of Surgical Oncology.  The authors selected the 23 top studies on the topic and found no association between tea consumption and decreased bladder cancer risk. This held true regardless of the type of tea consumed (e.g., green, black), gender, or the type of research design used. Incidentally, this meta-analysis replicated the findings of a prior one on the topic (Zeegers et al, 2001), yet included 11 more recent studies.  Overall, regardless of how much tea Andy Williams would have consumed, he would have very likely still passed away from bladder cancer.


Qin J, Xie B, Mao Q, Kong D, Lin Y, Zheng X. (2012). Tea consumption and risk of bladder cancer: a meta-analysis. World Journal of Surgical Oncology, 10, 172-(ahead of print).

Zeegers MP, Tan FE, Goldbohm RA, van den Brandt PA (2001). Are coffee and tea consumption associated with urinary tract cancer risk? A systematic review and metaanalysis. International Journal of Epidemioogy, 30, 353–362.

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