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BMJ. Apr 29, 1995; 310(6987): 1094–1097.
PMCID: PMC2549497

Stopping drinking and risk of oesophageal cancer.


OBJECTIVE--To examine the effect of stopping drinking on the risk of oesophageal cancer. DESIGN--Hospital based case-control study. SETTING--Surgical departments of four district general hospitals and general practices in Hong Kong. SUBJECTS--Cases were 400 consecutive admissions of patients with histologically confirmed diagnosis of oesophageal cancer during a 21 month period in 1989-90 (87% response rate). Controls were 1598 patients selected from the same surgical departments as the cases and from the general practices from which the cases were originally referred (95% response rate). MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE--Relative risk of developing oesophageal cancer after stopping drinking (adjusted for age, education, place of birth, smoking, and diet). RESULTS--Current light drinking (< 200g ethanol/week) was not associated with significant increase in risk. Among former drinkers risk fell more quickly in moderate (200-599 g/week) than heavy (> or = 600 g/week) drinkers. Even among heavy drinkers, however, risk had dropped substantially after five to nine years of not drinking. The results suggest that the time taken for risk to return to that in subjects who never drink was 10-14 years for moderate drinkers and 15 years or more, if ever, for heavy drinkers. CONCLUSION--Risk of oesophageal cancer decreases fairly rapidly with time after abstaining from drinking. This new finding could be used in health promotion to encourage behavioural changes, especially in heavy drinkers, who have a very high risk of developing oesophageal cancer. It also suggests that alcoholic beverages have a strong effect on the late stage of carcinogenesis.

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Selected References

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