November 23/London/Telegraph -- Women who begin drinking tea at a young age and drink the beverage more often are less likely to get ovarian cancer, which affects around 7,000 Britons a year. The results of the study were published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology and have been welcomed by the Tea Advisory Panel.

Health experts conducted a two-year study of 1,000 women with an average age of 59, half of which were diagnosed with ovarian cancer, while a controlled group of 500 were free of the disease. They were questioned about their tea drinking habits from how often they made a cup, what kind of tea they drank and when they first started.

The researchers discovered that the women without cancer were more likely to be tea drinkers from an earlier age than those diagnosed with the illness.

However, even within tea drinkers in both groups, those who did not have cancer had been drinking tea for longer and, on average, consumed more cups a day than the others.

Researchers from the School of Public Health, Curtin University in Perth, Australia, carried out the study on 1,000 women living in southern China.

Of the two groups, 79% of women not diagnosed with cancer were tea drinkers, compared to 51% who have or have had the disease. They found that flavonoids, powerful compounds with strong disease-fighting properties, were found in black tea in particular.

Previous studies have suggested that adding milk does not weaken their effect.

Study co-author Dr. Andy Lee said, "Tea is a safe and inexpensive beverage. Its consumption should be encouraged because of the potential benefit in preventing this common and deadly disease for women."

Dr. Catherine Hood, of the Tea Advisory Panel, said studies had shown that flavonoids have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and reduce the growth of body cells.

"Overall this new study adds to the evidence base linking tea consumption with reduced risk of ovarian cancer," she said.

"This is good news for British women among whom tea is a very popular beverage."

The study suggests it is not just the occasional cuppa that might help but a long-term habit of drinking four or more cups a day.

It shows almost 40% of the non-diagnosed women drank four or more cups a day compared with 22% of the other group.

They were also more likely to have been drinking tea for longer -- an average of 22.7 years for the non-diagnosed group compared to 18.3 years the others.