Moderate and high alcohol intake over a lifetime may increase the risk of prostate cancer (PCa) and some other malignancies, new findings suggest.

Investigators in Montreal analyzed data from 3,571 men who participated in a population-based, case-controlled study conducted in that city in the mid-1980s. The researchers, led by Andrea Benedetti, PhD, of McGill University, examined the effect of total lifetime alcohol consumption and the individual effects of beer, wine, and spirits on the risk of developing 13 kinds of cancer.

Dr. Benedetti’s team found that PCa risk appeared to be elevated among men who consumed beer regularly (i.e., on a daily or weekly basis) compared with abstainers or those who did not drink regularly. Men who drank regularly drank seven or more beers per week had a 36% increased risk of PCa, after adjusting for smoking status, age, cigarette-years, ethnicity, and other potential confounders, according to a report in Cancer Detection and Prevention (2009;32:352-362). Those who drank one to six beers per week had a 31% increased risk. Total alcohol consumption and consumption of wine and spirits did not appear to affect PCa risk, according to the researchers.

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In addition, the investigators examined cancer risk according to drink-years (the number of years of drinking multiplied by the average number of drinks per day of beer, wine, and spirits) among subjects who consumed seven or more drinks per week. Men with 180 drink-years or more had a significant 83% increased risk of PCa compared with subjects who abstained or did not regularly consume alcohol.

Moreover, lifetime regular consumption of alcohol was associated with an increased risk of esophageal, stomach, colon, liver, and lung cancer. The researchers found no excess risk of bladder cancer, kidney cancer, melanoma, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma related to alcohol consumption.

“Because of the extent of exposure to alcohol and the number of cancer sites potentially affected,” the authors wrote, “the present results suggest that alcohol consumption might have greater public health significance that previously thought.”

The researchers noted that a major strength of their study is the large number of cases and controls for so many cancer sites. “Few studies have had the capacity to investigate the role of alcohol in carcinogenesis at so many sites simultaneously and using a uniform analytical approach and to evaluate the effect of different alcoholic beverages.”

A potential limitation of the study was the use of a common control group for all cancers, they pointed out.