Coffee safe, but very hot beverages can cause cancer

Coffee drinkers worldwide will be relieved today following news from the International Agency for Research on Cancer that the popular beverage is not carcinogenic.

Coffee drinking was evaluated by IARC in 1991, and classified as possibly carcinogenic to humans based on limited evidence from epidemiological studies that coffee causes bladder cancer.

New findings, based on a larger and much stronger body of evidence, found no conclusive evidence for a carcinogenic effect of drinking coffee.

Cancer Council Queensland spokesperson Katie Clift said the IARC report did, however, find drinking very hot beverages could cause cancer of the oesophagus.

“The review found the temperature, rather than the drink itself, increases the risk of oesophageal cancer,” Ms Clift said.

“A very hot beverage is defined as 65°C or above. The typical drinking temperature for tea and coffee in most parts of the world is below 65°C.

“The evaluation found the risk of oesophageal cancer increased with the temperature at which a beverage was drunk. The hotter the beverage, the greater the risk.

“Cancer Council recommends caution in the consumption of beverages at very high temperatures, due to the risk of scalding and increased risk of oesophageal cancer.

“This risk may be due to enhanced cell proliferation in response to cell death from scalding of the oesophageal mucosa.

“Studies of other hot drinks, mainly tea, in several other countries, including China, Japan and Turkey, also found that the risk of oesophageal cancer may increase with the temperature of the drink.”

After reviewing more than 1000 studies in humans and animals, IARC found there was inadequate evidence for the carcinogenicity of coffee drinking overall.

Many studies now available showed that coffee drinking had no carcinogenic effects for cancers of the pancreas, female breast, and prostate, and reduced risks were seen for cancers of the liver and uterine endometrium.

Oesophageal cancer is a malignant tumour found in the tissues of the oesophagus. The cancer starts in the mucosa and may spread if it grows deeper into the oesophageal wall.

Risk factors for oesophageal cancer include smoking, high alcohol consumption, a diet low in fresh fruits and vegetables and frequently drinking very hot liquids.

Around 245 Queenslanders are diagnosed with oesophageal cancer each year, and about 225 die from the disease.

Rates of oesophageal cancer have increased by about 30 per cent since the early 1980s. The incidence is significantly higher in Queensland men, and the rates continue to rise only in men.

The five year relative survival rate for Queenslanders diagnosed with oesophageal cancer is only 24 per cent.

More information about Cancer Council Queensland is available at or 13 11 20.


For more information or interviews, please contact:
Katie Clift,
Executive Manager,
Media and Spokesperson,
Cancer Council Queensland
Phone: (07) 3634 5372
Mobile: 0409 001 171