Background In observational studies of Western populations, moderate alcohol use is usually associated with lower cancer mortality rates. However, moderate alcohol use (regular drinking of moderate amounts) is socially patterned. Evidence from other contexts can clarify such observations. We examined the association of moderate alcohol use with death from cancer in older Chinese adults from a developed non-Western setting, where occasional alcohol drinking (less than once per week of small amounts) is typical.
Methods Multivariable Cox regression analysis was used to assess the adjusted associations of alcohol use with death from cancer using a population-based prospective cohort of 66 820 Chinese aged ≥65 years enrolled from July 1998 to December 2001 at all the 18 Elderly Health Centres of the Hong Kong Government Department of Health, and followed till 30 May 2012.
Results After follow-up for about 10.5 years, 6335 cancer deaths were identified. Most current alcohol users were social drinkers (<1/week). Moderate drinkers had a similar risk of death from non-oesophageal cancer as never drinkers, but a higher risk of oesophageal cancer, adjusted for age, sex, socioeconomic position, lifestyle and health status. Social drinking (<1/week) was associated with a lower risk of death from non-oesophageal cancer, but not from oesophageal cancer.
Conclusions In a non-Western setting, no association of moderate alcohol use with death from cancer was found. Occasional social drinking (<1/week) was associated with a lower risk of cancer, suggesting that moderate alcohol use is not protective, but in any setting the attributes of being a typical drinker may be.
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