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Tea Causes Cancer! (Or Not!)

This headline from the *usually* reputable, non-clickbait WebMd had me nearly spitting out my tea:

Hot Tea Linked To Esophageal Cancer Risk

I drink between 1-5 cups of tea a day, have a bit of a fascination with health, love to read news, and have never seen a study or article suggesting tea was anything but beneficial to your health, so of course I was clicking on that link.

Thankfully, the lead gives you the true story right off the bat: 

 Tea lovers who take their daily cup scalding hot are raising their chance of having esophageal cancer if they also drink alcohol every day or if they smoke, say researchers.

Couple things here: the "scalding hot" from the lead and study is not the "hot" the article promises. If you know much about how cancer works, you probably wouldn't be too surprised to find out that repeated scaldings could lead to cancer.  Cell damage causes replication and requires repair, and that process could well go awry - leading to cancer.  

But that is a minor quibble compared to what follows.  So if you scald yourself every day, and irritate that skin further by introducing alcohol or smoke (already a well-known carcinogen), you could raise your risk of cancer.

This also appears a ways down in the article:

The risk for esophageal cancer was doubled in those who drank piping hot tea each day and smoked tobacco, compared with nonsmokers who drank tea only occasionally.

"Piping hot" doesn't seem like the most scientific term.  Regardless, how is tea to blame here?  The risk of cancer doubled between those who didn't use a well-known carcinogen and those who did, and also drank tea.  But, um, the cause here would more likely seem to be the known cancer agent, wouldn't it? 

If you manage to read to the bottom of the page, and click over to page 2, you see this:

Although the study showed no higher odds of esophageal cancer in participants who drank only tea every day -- scalding or not -- the study authors emphasize that "chronic thermal injury to the esophageal mucosa may initiate carcinogenesis," or the change of normal cells to cancer cells.

Hey, look, its exactly what I mentioned in my 5th graph!  

How could this be better?  Well, the headline should probably note that hot tea may further the risk of esophageal cancer posed by alcohol and smoke.  At the very least, the later two should probably be mentioned, since they appear to be the causative agent.  

Something like: Hot Tea May Up Cancer Risk Posed By Alcohol, Smoke

Also, a doubled risk sounds really scary.  But you also have to consider where the risk started.  A doubling from .01 to .02 isn't really that big, even if it is double.  Here, we are talking about 1,731 cases of esophageal cancer in 456,000+ participants.

Color me unconcerned.

*sips hot green tea


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