Researchers at Tohoku University studied 38,000 people aged 40 to 64 with no prior history of cancer.
During 13 years of follow up, 157 cases of cancer of the mouth, pharynx and esophagus developed.
Those who drank one or more cups of coffee per day had half the risk of developing these cancers compared with people who did not drink coffee, according to the study in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
They note that the reduction in risk included people who are at high risk for these cancers, such as drinkers and smokers.
The researchers conclude in their article, "Although cessation of alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking is currently the best known way to help reduce the risk of developing these cancers, coffee could be a preventive factor in both low-risk and high-risk populations."