The chemical in particular is called acrylamide, which is formed when sugars in foods are exposed to high temperatures when baked, roasted or fried. The amount of acrylamide formed is also dependent on the species of the plant, how long it has been stored or cooked, or other factors.
Typical foods which can produce acrylamide are vegetables such as potato (fried chips, crisps, hash browns etc), bakery products (toast, breads, biscuits, cakes etc), breakfast cereals, and other high-carb starchy foods.
But does coffee cause cancer?
Generally it does not! BUT acrylamide in foods such as coffee can increase the risk of SOME types of cancers in animal and human studies. This is despite the assurances from the Australian Food Standards organisation which suggests that there are no human studies showing this.
But cancer is a very complex condition for which there are multiple causative factors in each person, and there is no one single cause of cancer in anyone. This also means that acrylamide on its own is unlikely to cause cancer, and certainly not from one cup of coffee! Perhaps acrylamide exposure over a long period of time on its own can increase cancer risk, but the other nutrients such as antioxidants and others in coffee can potentially negate that risk.
There are many studies also showing the benefits of coffee in some types of cancers too!
Every week we see a study suggesting something like coffee, red wine, chocolate etc being bashed in the media as causing cancer, then the next week another study comes out saying how good it is for you! Nutrition science is so confusing if you just follow the sensationalist media, and not look at the details of the published studies. The summary graph attached shows multiple studies showing both benefits and risks of coffee, wine, tea and other common foods and drinks!
The issue with scientific research in nutrition is how well designed the study was. For example, whether a study was just looking at the increased risk of acrylamide alone on cancer and inferring that as coffee contains acrylamide, it causes cancer. Or whether whole coffee beans were tested for acrylamide content and then showing an increased risk in coffee drinkers versus non-drinkers. Or what temperature the coffee beans were roasted at, or the water temperature in the coffee, or whether a coffee drinker had good nutrition intake and lifestyle, or an increased genetic risk for cancer, or a thousand other possible factors!
Have your coffee! Drink it and enjoy it! I generally recommend 1-2 cups of brewed coffee per day at most, and preferably none after midday, as it can affect sleep! If you feel the need to have a coffee for an energy pickup after lunch, then there are reasons for this which can be explained and can be resolved without the need for coffee at that time of the day! You will need to see me for this!