Health bosses have warned very hot drinks could ‘probably’ cause cancer
The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer said it had found drinks consumed at 65C or over raise the risk of oesophageal cancer. Very hot drinks are a “probable” cause of cancer, the World Health Organisation has warned.
The oesophagus is the tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach. Nearly 9,000 people are diagnosed with oesophageal cancer each year in the UK.
In response, British cancer experts urged people to let their hot drinks cool down before drinking them to avoid raising the risk of cancer.
In its new guidance on hot drinks, the IARC also said that while it cannot prove coffee is absolutely “safe”, there is “no conclusive evidence” that coffee itself causes cancer.
Tea wasn’t assessed in the latest evaluation. Previous IARC work concluded tea is not carcinogenic.
Dr Christopher Wild, director of IARC, said: “These results suggest that drinking very hot beverages is one probable cause of oesophageal cancer and that it is the temperature, rather than the drinks themselves, that appears to be responsible.”
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In 1991, the IARC said that coffee was linked to bladder cancer.
But the agency’s 23 international experts concluded: “The evidence that drinking coffee might cause bladder cancer, which was limited in the previous evaluation, has become weaker, and it is no longer possible to determine whether drinking coffee causes bladder cancer.”
In its new evaluation of more than 500 studies, it found that coffee drinking had no carcinogenic effects for cancers of the pancreas, female breast, and prostate.
Reduced risks were seen for cancers of the liver and womb. For more than 20 other cancers, the evidence was inadequate to enable a conclusion to be made.
National Coffee Association (NCA) president Bill Murray said: “This finding is great news and highly significant for coffee drinkers and confirms evidence from an avalanche of studies by highly respected and independent scientists.”
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Meanwhile, experts responded to the rulings by urging people to let their hot drinks cool down before drinking them to avoid any increased risk of cancer.
Casey Dunlop, health information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: “Most people in the UK don’t consume drinks at the temperatures considered in this research, although very hot tea is a popular drink in Middle Eastern and other countries.
“There is some evidence that drinking very hot drinks over 65C may increase the risk of oesophageal (food pipe) cancer.
“So as long as you let your drink cool down a bit before you drink it, you’re unlikely to be much at risk.”
On coffee, she added: “The reassuring news for coffee drinkers is that coffee is unlikely to increase cancer risk.
“This decision from IARC reflects a large body of evidence that consistently shows coffee does not increase the risk of cancer.”
Dr Rachel Thompson, head of research interpretation at the World Cancer Research Fund, stressed that the findings did not mean Brits could no longer enjoy hot drinks – just that they should avoid very hot drinks.
Previous research suggests that the tea-loving British public prefers average temperatures of between 56 to 60C, which is below the 65C warning issued by the IARC.
She said: “This new research, which shows that drinking very hot drinks can increase the risk of oesophageal cancer, is very interesting.
“Our own research analysis found similar evidence for people drinking the South American herbal tea, mate, scalding hot through a metal straw.
“It is therefore not surprising that this is seen to be reflected in other beverages that are drunk at very high temperatures.
“We will be carrying out further research analysis into hot beverages in the future.
“To all the tea lovers out there, these new findings don’t mean that you can no longer enjoy hot drinks.
“It is the very hot temperatures that have been identified as a cancer risk and so, when drinking tea or other hot drinks, just let it cool down for a few minutes especially if you’re not adding any milk.”
Cancer can develop in any part of the oesophagus, which carries food from the throat to the stomach.
Cancer in the upper part and middle part tend to be squamous cell carcinomas which develop from cells from the inner lining of the oesophagus.
Cancers in the lower part of the oesophagus tend to be a type called adenocarcinoma which start in the gland cells.
Around 8,750 people are diagnosed with oesophageal cancer each year in the UK. The condition has become more common over the last four decades.