Healthy living

A nice hot cup of tea might not be so nice after all

blow before you suck. Study suggests drinking scalding hot tea may cause cancer in the throat

The British Medical Journal has reported that drinking very hot black tea may be a cause of cancer of the oesophagus.

The study was by a group of Iranian scientists, and these results may explain why there is a higher incidence of this form of cancer in non-Western groups, as in the west (like here in the UK for instance), it is common to add milk to tea, which then tends to cool it enough to reduce the risk.

This is an interesting study for a number of reasons. Firstly most cancers of the oesophagus are linked to smoking and alcohol consumption especially in the USA and Europe. Secondly there are other places in the world with lower alcohol and cigarette consumption but that have high levels of the disease. So this study was carried out in a part of Iran which has low alcohol consumption and low rates of smoking, AND one of the highest rates of oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) in the world - OSCC is the most common form of Oesophagus cancer.

The scientists studied 300 people diagnosed with OSCC and compared them with a group of 570 from the same area. Nearly all of the people studied drank black tea evey day (on average over a litre a day).

Compared with drinking warm or lukewarm tea (65C or less), drinking hot tea (65-69C) was associated with twice the risk of oesophageal cancer, and drinking very hot tea (70C or more) was associated with an eight-fold increased risk. Drinking tea within 2 minutes of it being poured was also 5 times more risky than waiting for 4 or more minutes before drinking.

Of course this is not proof that drinking tea at temperatures of 70C causes cancer, but statistically there is a connection. The best advice is to add some milk and wait for the tea to cool down before drinking it.

This article was published on Fri 27 March 2009

Image © torben -

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