Much of the world enjoys a hot cup of tea or two every day, but can that hot beverage be hurting us? Some recent studies have found a link between drinking very hot tea and certain kinds of cancer.

However, other medical research shows that drinking hot tea alone will not cause cancer. Drinking very hot tea combined with other risk factors might raise your chances of developing some types of cancer. These risks include:

  • smoking cigarettes or sheesha (hookah)
  • drinking alcohol
  • chewing tobacco
  • diet
  • exposure to air pollution

A study from Iran found that people who drank 700 milliliters of hot tea per day that was 60°C or higher (140°F) had a 90 percent increase in the risk of esophageal cancers.

Cancer of the esophagus, or esophageal cancer, is the specific kind of cancer linked to drinking very hot tea.

The esophagus is a hollow muscular tube that carries liquids, saliva, and chewed up food from the mouth to your stomach. Circular muscles called sphincter muscles close and open both ends.

Esophageal cancer happens when a tumor grows in the esophagus or when the cells in the lining of the esophagus change.

There are two main kinds of esophageal cancer:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma. This type of cancer happens when the flat thin cells that line the inside of the esophagus change.
  • Adenocarcinoma. This type of cancer happens when the cancer begins in the mucus ducts of the esophagus. This usually occurs in the lower part of the esophagus.

Esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) is the type of cancer linked to drinking hot tea in the study mentioned above.

The most common symptom of ESCC or any kind of esophageal cancer is difficulty or pain swallowing.

symptoms of esophageal cancer

On addition to pain or difficulty swallowing, other symptoms of ESCC may include:

  • chronic cough
  • indigestion or heart burn
  • hoarseness
  • weight loss
  • low appetite
  • bleeding in the esophagus

See your doctor if you have any symptoms of ESCC. Your doctor will perform a physical exam and a few tests to help diagnose your condition. You may also need tests such as:

  • Endoscopy. Your doctor looks inside the esophagus with a tiny camera attached to a flexible tube. The camera can also take pictures of your esophagus.
  • Biopsy. Your doctor takes a tiny piece of tissue from the inside lining of your esophagus. The sample is sent to a lab to be analyzed.
  • Barium swallow. In this test, you’ll have to drink a chalky liquid that will line your esophagus. Your doctor will then take an X-ray of the esophagus.
  • CT scan. This scan produces images of your esophagus and your entire chest area. You may also have a full body CT scan.

Like other kinds of cancer, treatment depends on what stage the esophageal cancer is in. Your doctor may recommend:

  • Surgery. Your doctor may recommend removal of the cancerous part of the esophagus. If the cancer has spread deeper into the esophagus, you may need a part or all of it removed.
  • Radiation therapy. High-energy radiation beams are used to stop the cancer cells in the esophagus. Radiation may be used before or after surgery.
  • Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is a type of drug treatment used to get rid of cancer. You may need chemotherapy along with surgery or radiation.

Drinking any very hot beverage — not just tea — might increase your risk of esophageal cancer. This includes hot water, coffee, and hot chocolate.

More research is needed on why drinking hot tea and other beverages may lead to a higher risk of esophageal cancer. One theory is that hot tea might damage the lining of the esophagus, making it easier for other cancer-causing substances like alcohol and cigarette smoke to enter.

Drinking hot tea doesn’t cause cancer on its own. If you regularly drink tea or other hot beverages and you have other risk factors like smoking and drinking alcohol, you may have a higher risk of one kind of esophageal cancer.

A combination of lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, limiting alcohol, and allowing beverages to cool before drinking them may help lower your risk of some types of cancers.