Background: Because alcohol drinking is a potential risk factor for colorectal cancer, the trend in alcohol consumption in Japan may partly explain the increase in incidence and mortality rates of this malignancy until 1990-1995. Methods: We analyzed data from the Japan Collaborative Cohort Study. From 1988 to 1990, 23,708 men and 34,028 women, aged 40-79 years, completed a questionnaire on lifestyle factors including drinking habits. Incidence rate ratios (IRR) were estimated by using proportional hazards models. Results: During the mean follow-up of 7.6 years through December 1997, we documented 418 incidents of colon cancer and 211 of rectal cancer. Male ex- or current drinkers demonstrated a twofold risk for colon cancer compared with nondrinkers: the multivariate-adjusted IRR was 2.01 (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.09-3.68) for ex-drinkers and 1.97 (95% Cl: 1.28-3.03) for current drinkers. The dose-response relationship between alcohol consumption and the risk, however, was not clear. Female ex-drinkers were at an increased risk without statistical significance. For rectal cancer, we found a slightly lower risk in light current drinkers who consumed less than 22 g ethanol per day: the multivariate IRR was 0.61 (95% Cl: 0.33-1.13) for men and 0.69 (95% Cl: 0.27-1.74) for women. Although the IRR for all current drinkers was almost unity in men, an increasing trend in risk was detected with increasing alcohol consumption in current drinkers (trend p = 0.027). Conclusions: Taking the findings from our study and other prospective investigations into consideration, more attention should be paid to alcohol consumption in the prevention of colon cancer in Japan.
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