Hot drinks 'linked to throat cancer', warns WHO

Beverages drunk at more than 65C can double the risk – but cancer is taken off the danger list

Starbucks coffee
(Image credit: Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images)

Drinking scalding hot drinks can "probably" lead to throat cancer, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned.

Researchers first proposed the idea in 2009, when the Daily Telegraph reported a study of almost 900 Australians that had found a link between throat cancer and very hot tea.

Drinking tea between 65C and 69C was associated with double the risk of developing cancer as at 65C or cooler. Habitually sipping tea hotter than 69C could increase the risk by as much as eightfold.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Now the WHO's cancer agency has reviewed more than 1,000 similar studies, says The Times, and is advising drinkers of all hot beverages to wait a few minutes for it to cool, in order to reduce the risk.

"[New figures] suggest drinking very hot beverages is one probable cause of oesophageal cancer," Christopher Wild, the director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), said.

He added that it was the "temperature, rather than the drinks themselves" that appeared to be responsible for the increased risk. IARC suggested temperatures of 65C or less are safe.

An IARC statement said: "Studies in places such as China, Iran, Turkey and South America, where tea or mate is traditionally drunk very hot (at about 70C), found the risk of oesophageal cancer increased with the temperature at which the beverage was drunk.

"Drinking very hot beverages at above 65C was classified as 'probably' carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A)."

At the same time, IARC announced that it was reversing a 1991 decision to class coffee as causing bladder cancer, saying the link was probably due to the association of smoking with drinking coffee.

In fact, the agency says the drink could help protect people from certain types of cancer, including womb and liver. Coffee has been moved from Group 2B, meaning it is "possibly" carcinogenic, to Group 3, meaning there is no evidence of a link to cancer, says the Daily Mail.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.