In 1991 the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classed coffee as “possibly carcinogenic” on the basis of a link to bladder cancer.
But it now says there is “no conclusive evidence” for a carcinogenic effect of drinking coffee.
The downgrading does not mean coffee drinking has been proved safe when it comes to cancer, but that there’s not enough evidence to say it is hazardous.
The IARC findings, published in The Lancet Oncology, were reached after 23 scientists reviewed more than 1000 studies in humans and animals.
They did find that drinking very hot drinks, 65C or above, probably causes cancer of the oesophagus.
“These results suggest that drinking very hot beverages is one probable cause of oesophageal cancer and that it is the temperature, rather than the drinks themselves, that appears to be responsible” said Dr Christopher Wild, IARC director.
The IARC noted limited evidence from studies in places such as China, Turkey, and South America, where very hot drinks are consumed.
But Dr Wild stressed smoking and alcohol drinking were major causes of oesophageal cancer, particularly in many high-income countries.
Cancer Council Australia CEO Professor Sanchia Aranda said coffee drinkers should be comforted to know they are not increasing their cancer risk, as long as it was not too hot.
But she said people worried too much about exposure to things that posed no cancer risk instead of focusing on proven risks.
“Right now we’ve got good evidence on how the next Australian government could save tens of thousands of lives by investing more in bowel cancer screening and anti-smoking and skin cancer awareness programs,” she said.
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