How Hot's Your Coffee? WHO Says Very Hot Drinks Are ‘Probable’ Cancer Trigger June 17 2016
The WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reviewed around 1,000 studies that investigated a connection between high-temperature beverages and their potential link to cancer. Based on the available evidence, they conclude that drinking very hot beverages, defined as anything above 65C (149F), is linked to higher risk of cancer of the esophagus (throat cancer). It is important to note that coffee from most stores and espresso machines are hotter than 65C.
They based their conclusion, which is published in Lancet Oncology, on studies that found higher rates of esophageal cancer among people who drank extremely hot tea or coffee compared to those who consumed their drinks at lower temperatures - even after they adjusted for things like smoking and other possible cancer risk factors. Animal studies also seem to hint that even very hot water can increase the risk of esophageal cancer, presumably because the temperature scalds delicate tissues in the esophagus; that damage may then trigger more rapid turnover of the cells, which can in some cases lead to out-of-control malignant growth.
The report also concludes, however, that there isn’t adequate evidence to classify coffee itself as a carcinogen. In the studies the group reviewed, there seemed to be an increased risk of esophageal cancer only when people drank very hot beverages, usually above 65C. The National Coffee Association USA recommends holding coffee at 82 to 85C (180 to 185F) and while most coffee sellers serve their drinks at about 10 degrees below that after a lawsuit by a customer who was scalded by cup at the holding temperature at McDonald’s it’s still 5 to 10 degrees higher than experts now recommend to avoid cancer risk.
Is there any reason to panic? According to Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical and scientific officer at the American Cancer Society, the risk from the higher temperature drinks is much smaller than the risk from other, more common risk behaviors like alcohol and cigarettes. “I would say anybody who drinks alcohol shouldn’t even worry about this because alcohol is far more of a cancer-causer than coffee or hot drinks. Anybody who smokes cigarettes also shouldn’t worry about this because cigarettes are a far greater cause of cancer than alcohol.”
That said, as we've mentioned in our Coffee Appreciation Sessions, it's better to let your coffee cool for about 10 minutes or so to let the flavor settle. Now there's an added benefit of helping to prevent throat cancer as well.