What you need to know about drinking hot tea and the risk of esophageal cancer

While there are a number of reasons to love consuming tea, before you take a sip, you may want to let that hot beverage cool down a bit. A brand new study, published in the International Journal of Cancer, adds evidence that drinking very hot tea can be linked with an increased risk of esophageal cancer.

“Many people enjoy drinking tea, coffee, or other hot beverages. However, according to our report, drinking very hot tea can increase the risk of esophageal cancer, and it is therefore advisable to wait until hot beverages cool down before drinking,” the lead author of the study, Dr. Farhad Islami of the American Cancer Society, said in a statement.

For the study, for 10 years, Islami and his team followed more than 50,000 people between the ages of 40 and 75. An analysis during a follow-up period found that 317 of these individuals had developed cancer of the esophagus. Esophageal cancer— found in the tube that connects the throat and the stomach— is a deadly disease. Approximately 17,290 Americans were diagnosed with it last year by the National Cancer Institute, and only about 19% of patients survive 5 years.

The researchers discovered that consuming 700 milliliters — around three cups — per day or more at a higher temperature (140°F or hotter) was linked with a 90 percent higher risk of esophageal cancer, compared to people who drank the same amount at a temperature below 140°F.

This is not the first time drinking very hot beverages has been linked to an increased cancer risk. In 2016, the World Health Organization issued a report that found that drinking “very hot” beverages of any kind could potentially raise the cancer risk, and it classified them as “probably carcinogenic” to humans.

Specifically, it noted countries such China, Iran and those in South America, where teas such as the bitter herbal infusion mate are usually drunk at very high temperatures — greater than 65 or 70 degrees Celsius (150 or 160 degrees Fahrenheit).

In the U.S. and Europe, drinks such as tea and coffee are typically served at lower temperatures.

While experts have not located the actual biological mechanism behind the cancer link, researchers think that frequently consuming scalding hot liquids may lead to long-term injury to the cells that exist along the esophagus.

“It doesn’t take a scientist to appreciate that repeated irritation of any body surface increases your risk of cancer. Sunburn gives us skin cancer, smoking gives us lung cancer, and many foods and drinks contribute to risk of gastrointestinal cancers,” Dr. James Doidge, a senior research associate at University College London said.

Doidge, who was not actually involved in the study, also wanted to put the total risk into context.

“If you enjoy your tea piping hot and we take the results on this study on face value, then we are talking about an additional lifetime risk of esophageal cancer of around one in one hundred for a lifetime of drinking hot tea. Not an insubstantial risk but one that should be balanced against the pleasure that you personally derive from your daily ritual,” he said.

“Quitting smoking and reducing alcohol consumption are much more significant for reducing cancer risk than the temperature of what you’re drinking,” Dr. Otis Brawley, former chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, said to CBS News in 2016. Brawley stated that the cancer risk posed by drinking hot beverages was similar to that found by eating pickled vegetables.

Share on Facebook