Drinking very hot beverages such as coffee, tea and maté is a traditional practice observed in the major areas of South America, Asia and Africa, but can it lead to cancer? Just today in a press release, a group of 23 scientists from International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the cancer agency of the World Health Organization (WHO) found a link between drinking ‘very hot’ beverages and the risk of esophageal cancer.

Previously, coffee was associated with carcinogenicity but the latest press release issued by (IARC) negates the misconception, incriminating the high-temperature instead. It’s not coffee that causes cancer but the high temperature, i.e. 65 – 70°C that damages your esophagus and can lead to esophageal cancer. Esophageal cancer claims more than 400,000 deaths per year which makes it the eighth most common cause of cancer worldwide. Other major risks factors of this cancer include tobacco smoking and alcohol consumption.

Dr. Christopher Wild, PhD, Director IARC, whilst emphasizing on temperature to be the risk factor for cancer said, “Results of our research 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”.

According to the fact sheet released by IARC media center, a high incidence of esophageal cancer has been reported in the areas where these commonly used beverages are consumed at a very high temperature. The findings of the report were also summarized in The Lancet Oncology today.

The report was based on the epidemiological studies from the regions of China, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Turkey, and South America where these traditional beverages like tea or maté are consumed quite hot, at 70 °C approximately and increased incidences of the esophageal cancers are witnessed. Maté is traditional South American caffeine infused drink made from dried leaves of Ilex paraguariensis. It is served both hot and cold.

It is worth mentioning that all drinks which are served at more than 65 °C are considered hot.

The findings of the current analysis are in accordance with the WHO’s views documented in a technical report on Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases, which endorse against drinking these beverages at ‘scalding hot temperature’.

In 1991, IARC believed that drinking coffee might cause cancer. However, a current review conducted of more than 1000 studies in humans and animals pointed towards no evidence of cancer. Moreover, neither  esophageal nor any significant association between coffee consumption and cancers of other types like pancreas, breast, and prostate was found.

However, the exact quantity and time span of these beverage intake is still not known. The only evidences that have been generated regarding the probability of developing these cancers are in concordance with the temperature, according to IARC News.

National cancer Institute (NCI) of the U.S., endorses the cancer preventive ability of green and black tea. According to the scientific data provided by them, the polyphenols in green tea named ad EGCG, EGC, ECG, and EC and the theaflavins and thearubigins in black tea have antioxidant capacity, which can reduce the incidences of different types of cancers.

Moreover, a recent study published in the Journal Genes and Nutrition was successful in establishing a positive connection between coffee consumption and reduction of cancers.

Despite the fact that cancers are curable, increased incidences are observed every year globally. According to the estimates from World Health Organization (WHO), 14.1 million new cancer cases and 8.2 million cancer-related deaths occurred in the year 2012. Furthermore, stats from WHO also indicate the alarming situation of the probable cancer incidences. More than 1.3 million people were estimated to die of cancer in 2015 and 25 to 40% of cancer cases were estimated to be directly attributed to unhealthy lifestyle, in addition to other risk factors.

According to CNN News, The National Coffee Association in the United States positively tackled the new findings. The National Coffee Association President Bill Murray said that they can now consume a brewed cup of coffee with more confidence. “This is great news for coffee drinkers and confirms evidence from an avalanche of studies by highly respected and independent scientists”, he said.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is part of the World Health Organization, where it carries out research on the latest prospects and causes of human cancer as well as evaluating the mechanisms behind the process of carcinogenesis, so that appropriate measures to combat the lethal disease can be taken.