Drinking very hot beverages “probably’ causes cancer of the oesophagus, the World Health Organization’s cancer agency said on Wednesday.
In a review published on Thursday by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the WHO, drinking very hot beverages was classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
“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,” said Christopher Wild, director of the IARC.
More specifically, the review by a panel of global experts stated that drinking beverages at temperatures above 65 degrees Celsius — 149 degrees Fahrenheit — could cause people to develop cancer of their oesophagus, the eighth most common form of cancer worldwide.
Drinking tea, coffee or other hot beverages at this temperature can cause significant scald burns in the oesophagus when they’re consumed and has previously been linked to an increased cancer risk in this part of the body.
Warm beverages are not typically consumed this hot in Europe and North America but are commonly served at, or above, this temperature in regions such as South America, the Middle East and East Africa — particularly when drinking teas. It’s hotter than water coming out of sink faucets, which is typically no higher than about 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius), but not as hot as boiling water. Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius, or 212 degrees Fahrenheit.
The 65-degree Celsius temperature noted by the cancer research agency is enough to burn your tongue, and according to the American Burn Association, skin contact with a liquid this hot can result in almost instantaneous burns if prolonged.
The findings come after a group of 23 international scientists analyzed all available data on the carcinogenicity of coffee, maté — a leaf infusion consumed commonly in South America and other regions — and a range of other hot beverages, including tea.
They decided that drinks consumed at very hot temperatures were linked to cancer of the oesophagus in humans.
The new classification puts consuming very hot drinks in the same risk group as exposure to substances such as lead, gasoline and exhaust fumes, which are also classified as “possibly carcinogenic” by the agency. Use of talcum powder on the perineal or anal regions of the body is also within this category.
Oesophageal cancer was responsible for approximately 400,000 recorded deaths worldwide in 2012, about 5% of all cancer deaths.
Though smoking and drinking alcohol are major causes of oesophageal cancer, particularly in high-income countries, the majority of cases globally for this form of cancer occur in parts of Asia, South America and East Africa.