There may be a new reason to take caution with extremely hot coffee. The World Health Organization (WHO) announced yesterday that drinking very hot beverages may cause cancer. The organization classified drinks served at 65ºC, about 149ºF, or higher as probably carcinogenic to humans. Tea drinkers shouldn’t get smug about these findings, though, because it turns out that drinking coffee does not cause cancer, and coffee itself has been downgraded as a risk for cancer. So the good news is that coffee, by itself, probably won’t cause cancer, but the bad news is drinking it extra-hot might. And ultimately, your potential risk for cancer is defined by the temperature of your drink rather than what’s actually in your mug.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is the agency of the WHO that is responsible for cancer research, published a report in The Lancet Oncology examining the carcinogenicity of popular caffeinated beverages including coffee and maté. In their review of over 1,000 scientific studies in humans and animals, the working group found that the temperature of the beverage was a greater risk factor than the drink itself.
Amid this new announcement, it is important to keep the actual risk of getting cancer from hot drinks in perspective. Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, told the Associated Press that “the cancer risk of drinking very hot beverages was similar to that posed by eating pickled vegetables.”
Cutting out smoking or limiting your exposure to air pollution, both of which are known carcinogens according to the IARC, will probably be better for your health in the long run than only drinking iced beverages. But this report from the WHO only adds another data point to the increasing body of evidence that coffee might not be the caffeinated villain the American public was once led to believe.