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PLoS Med. 2018 Jun 19;15(6):e1002585. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002585. eCollection 2018 Jun.

The association of lifetime alcohol use with mortality and cancer risk in older adults: A cohort study.

Author information

1
Centre for Public Health, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom.
2
Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, Bethesda, Maryland, United States of America.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

While current research is largely consistent as to the harms of heavy drinking in terms of both cancer incidence and mortality, there are disparate messages regarding the safety of light-moderate alcohol consumption, which may confuse public health messages. We aimed to evaluate the association between average lifetime alcohol intakes and risk of both cancer incidence and mortality.

METHODS AND FINDINGS:

We report a population-based cohort study using data from 99,654 adults (68.7% female), aged 55-74 years, participating in the U.S. Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening Trial. Cox proportional hazards models assessed the risk of overall and cause-specific mortality, cancer incidence (excluding nonmelanoma skin cancer), and combined risk of cancer and death across categories of self-reported average lifetime alcohol intakes, with adjustment for potential confounders. During 836,740 person-years of follow-up (median 8.9 years), 9,599 deaths and 12,763 primary cancers occurred. Positive linear associations were observed between lifetime alcohol consumption and cancer-related mortality and total cancer incidence. J-shaped associations were observed between average lifetime alcohol consumption and overall mortality, cardiovascular-related mortality, and combined risk of death or cancer. In comparison to lifetime light alcohol drinkers (1-3 drinks per week), lifetime never or infrequent drinkers (<1 drink/week), as well as heavy (2-<3 drinks/day) and very heavy drinkers (3+ drinks/day) had increased overall mortality and combined risk of cancer or death. Corresponding hazard ratios (HRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) for combined risk of cancer or death, respectively, were 1.09 (1.01-1.13) for never drinkers, 1.08 (1.03-1.13) for infrequent drinkers, 1.10 (1.02-1.18) for heavy drinkers, and 1.21 (1.13-1.30) for very heavy drinkers. This analysis is limited to older adults, and residual confounding by socioeconomic factors is possible.

CONCLUSIONS:

The study supports a J-shaped association between alcohol and mortality in older adults, which remains after adjustment for cancer risk. The results indicate that intakes below 1 drink per day were associated with the lowest risk of death.

TRIAL REGISTRATION:

NCT00339495 (ClinicalTrials.gov).

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