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Very Hot Tea Increases Cancer Risk


Researchers in China studying the consumption of “burning” hot tea, alcohol, and smoking habits of greater than 450,000 people ages 30 –79 for more than nine years found a five time greater risk of esophageal cancer in those who engaged in all three of the behaviors and a two time greater risk in those who either smoked or drank alcohol and consumed burning hot tea as compared to people who have none of these habits. The study results appear in February 6, 2018 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.    


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To begin, alcohol and smoking have long been known to increase the risk of esophageal cancer with the association between drinking “burning” hot tea and esophageal cancer identified more recently. Burning hot tea is tea consumed at temperatures above 149o F. Consider this information from the Burn Foundation:

Hot water causes third degree burns…
…in 1 second at 156º
…in 2 seconds at 149º
…in 5 seconds at 140º
…in 15 seconds at 133º.

First degree burns damage the outer layer of the skin causing redness and some pain but no blistering. They heal on their own within a week.

Second degree burns damage both the outer layer of the skin and the layer underneath. These cause pain, redness and blistering.  These burns take a few weeks to heal and in severe cases, need skin grafting.

Third degree burns damage or destroy the outer layer of the skin, the underneath layer, hair follicles, sweat glands, and underlying tissue. These can take months to heal and always need skin grafting.  (NIH,  2018)

So, “burning” hot tea would cause third degree burns in 2 seconds on your skin. Since your mouth and esophagus are as sensitive to temperature as your skin – which is why you check the temperature of the liquid in a baby’s bottle by shaking a few drops on your inner wrist-  think about the potential damage of tea this hot. The risk of cell injury from liquids at high temperature is so great that in 2016 the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified beverages above 149º F, probably carcinogenic to humans because of the likely damage done to cells, and the possibility of  initiating the cascade of events leading to cancer.

In the study above, it was the combined action of drinking very hot tea along with tobacco and alcohol use that raised esophageal cancer risk five-fold. Given this, the researchers suggest eliminating any one of these three factors would lower esophageal cancer risk – quit smoking, quit drinking or drink less, and/or drink cooler tea.

Esophageal cancer accounts for about 1% of all cancers diagnosed in the U.S. it is a relatively deadly cancer with only about 20% of people surviving five years after diagnosis. It is more common in men than in women, and in whites. Among the risk factors are alcohol and tobacco use, obesity, diet – which includes ingestion of very hot liquids, a history of gastric esophageal reflux disease (GERD), and achalasia. (American Cancer Society, 2017)

To decrease the risk of esophageal cancer –

  • Cut back on alcohol – the more you drink, the greater the risk

  • Quit smoking or stop using tobacco in any form

  • Avoid “burning hot beverages”

  • Maintain a healthy weight which helps in the prevention of GERD

  • Eat a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables


For more information:

National Institute of General Medical Science

Burn Foundation
Safety Facts on Scald Burns

National Institutes of Health
Temperature for serving hot beverages

Tea leaf Journal
Water temperature for tea

World Health Organization
IARC Monographs evaluate drinking coffee, mate and very hot beverages

American Cancer Society
Esophageal Cancer

Joanna Hayden, PhD, CHES is the principal of Associates for Health Education and Behavior, LLC, in Sparta, a practice focused on improving health through education. Her office offers individual and group health education, and individual health behavior change guidance.  For more information please see  To contact Dr. Hayden, email her

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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