Very hot drinks are ‘probably carcinogenic’

Updated 11:47 PM EDT, Wed June 15, 2016

Story highlights

A review classifies very hot beverages as "probably carcinogenic to humans"

Coffee itself "not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans," unless it's very hot

(CNN) —  

Anyone who likes to curl up with a steaming hot drink should consider letting some of that warmth subside; drinking it could increase their risk of developing cancer.

In a review published today by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the cancer agency of the World Health Organization, drinking very hot beverages was classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

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 esophagus, 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 esophagus when they’re consumed and has previously been linked to an increased cancer risk in this part of the body.

01:01 - Source: CNN Business
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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 and according to the American Burn Association, skin contact with a liquid this hot can result in almost instantaneous burns if prolonged.

Getting hot

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 esophagus 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.

Evidence for the findings was limited, but studies in China, Iran, Turkey and South America found positive associations between the risk of this form of cancer and temperatures at which drinks were consumed. Forms of tea, including the leaf infusion maté, are typically drunk at extremely high temperatures, above 158 degrees Fahrenheit (70 degrees Celsius) in these regions, according to the agency.

“These results suggest that drinking very hot beverages is one probable cause of esophageal cancer and that it is the temperature, rather than the drinks themselves, that appears to be responsible,” said Dr. Christopher Wild, director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Consumers in industrialized countries can stay calm, as they typically drink their beverages with less heat. “This is about 10 degrees [Celsius] higher than people in North America [and Europe] like their coffee,” said Dana Loomis, deputy head of the monographs sect