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Originally published March 28, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 28, 2009 at 6:40 AM

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Tea: Some like it hot, but that raises cancer risk

Residents of Golestan province in northern Iran have one of the highest rates of esophageal squamous-cell carcinoma in the world. They don't drink alcohol or smoke — the two primary risk factors for the disease in the West — but they do consume tea. Lots of it. Nearly 1.2 liters a day, on average.

Los Angeles Times

Is there anything left that isn't linked to cancer?

Not hot tea, apparently. An international group of scientists has connected it with esophageal cancer. The problem doesn't appear to be the tea but the temperature at which it is consumed, the study found.

Residents of Golestan province in northern Iran have one of the highest rates of esophageal squamous-cell carcinoma in the world. They don't drink alcohol or smoke — the two primary risk factors for the disease in the West — but they do consume tea. Lots of it. Nearly 1.2 liters a day, on average.

Local researchers set out looking for a connection.

They recruited 300 esophageal-cancer patients who were diagnosed at the only gastrointestinal-specialty clinic in the eastern part of Golestan and matched them up with 571 healthy controls who shared their age, gender and place of residence. All but one drank tea, and they gave interviewers information about their tea consumption and brewing habits.

Teaming up with investigators from the United States, England, France and Sweden, the researchers calculated that people who said they drank "hot" tea — 149 to 156 degrees Fahrenheit — were more than twice as likely to develop esophageal cancer as people who said they drank the beverage "warm" or "lukewarm": less than 140 degrees.

Those who said they took their tea "very hot" — at least 158 degrees — were more than eight times as likely to get esophageal cancer, according to the study, published online Thursday in BMJ, formerly the British Medical Journal.

The researchers also asked people how long they waited to drink their tea after pouring it. Those who said they waited two to three minutes were nearly 2.5 times more likely to develop the cancer compared with people who said they waited at least four minutes. Impatient tea drinkers who waited fewer than two minutes were 5.4 times as likely to be diagnosed with esophageal cancer, the study found.

The study didn't assess the mechanism linking hot tea to esophageal cancer, but the researchers said the temperature of the liquid was almost certainly to blame rather than the compounds in the tea.

In an editorial accompanying the study, David Whiteman of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Brisbane, Australia, advised tea drinkers in Iran and elsewhere to simply exercise some patience and wait at least four minutes before enjoying their favorite beverage.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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