Comparative oesophageal cancer risk assessment of hot beverage consumption (coffee, mate and tea): the margin of exposure of PAH vs very hot temperatures

BMC Cancer. 2018 Mar 1;18(1):236. doi: 10.1186/s12885-018-4060-z.


Background: Consumption of very hot (> 65 °C) beverages is probably associated with increased risk of oesophageal cancer. First associations were reported for yerba mate and it was initially believed that high content of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) might explain the risk. Later research on other beverage groups such as tea and coffee, which are also consumed very hot, found associations with increased risk of oesophageal cancer as well. The risk may therefore not be inherent in any compound contained in mate, but due to temperature. The aim of this study was to quantitatively assess the risk of PAH in comparison with the risk of the temperature effect using the margin of exposure (MOE) methodology.

Methods: The human dietary benzo[a]pyrene (BaP) and PAH4 (sum of benzo[a]pyrene, benzo[a]anthracene, chrysene, and benzo[b]fluoranthene) exposure through consumption of coffee, mate, and tea was estimated. The oesophageal cancer risk assessment for both PAH and temperature was conducted using the MOE approach.

Results: Considering differences in the transfer of the PAH from the leaves of mate and tea or from the ground coffee to the infusion, and considering the different preparation methods, exposures may vary considerably. The average individual exposure in μg/kg bw/day arising from consumption of 1 cup (0.2 L) of infusion was highest for mate (2.85E-04 BaP and 7.22E-04 PAH4). The average per capita exposure in μg/kg bw/day was as follows: coffee (4.21E-04 BaP, 4.15E-03 PAH4), mate (4.26E-03 BaP, 2.45E-02 PAH4), and tea (8.03E-04 BaP, 4.98E-03 PAH4). For all individual and population-based exposure scenarios, the average MOE for BaP and PAH4 was > 100,000 independent of beverage type. MOE values in this magnitude are considered as a very low risk. On the contrary, the MOE for the temperature effect was estimated as < 1 for very hot drinking temperatures, corroborating epidemiological observations about a probable oesophageal cancer risk caused by this behaviour.

Conclusions: The temperature effect but not PAH exposure may pose an oesophageal cancer risk. Consumer education on risks associated with consumption of 'very hot' beverages and policy measures to threshold serving temperatures should be discussed.

Keywords: Beverages; Coffee; Esophageal cancer; Hot temperature; Mate; Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons; Tea.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Benz(a)Anthracenes / adverse effects
  • Benzo(a)pyrene / adverse effects
  • Chrysenes / adverse effects
  • Coffee / adverse effects*
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Fluorenes / adverse effects
  • Hot Temperature*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / adverse effects*
  • Rats
  • Risk Assessment
  • Tea / adverse effects*


  • Benz(a)Anthracenes
  • Chrysenes
  • Coffee
  • Fluorenes
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
  • Tea
  • chrysene
  • Benzo(a)pyrene
  • benz(a)anthracene
  • benzo(b)fluoranthene