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Research Summary

Alcohol Consumption and Lung Cancer: Are They Connected?

Few studies have explored whether alcohol independently increases the risk of lung cancer or modifies the risk conferred by smoking. To examine these possibilities, researchers conducted a pooled analysis of data from 7 prospective studies of diet and cancer. Of 399,767 subjects, 3137 developed lung cancer. Analyses were adjusted for potential confounders (e.g., smoking, education).

  • The risk of lung cancer was slightly greater in subjects who consumed >=30 g of alcohol (approximately 2 drinks) per day than in those who abstained (pooled relative risk [RR] 1.2; P for trend=0.03).
  • Among smokers, risk did not significantly differ between those who drank and those who did not drink (e.g., RR 1.0 for men drinking 5 to <15 grams per day).
  • However, among men who never smoked, those who drank had a significantly greater risk of lung cancer than those who did not drink (RR 2.5 for 5 to <15 g per day; RR 6.4 for >=15 g per day). There were no significant findings for women who never smoked.


This study is notable for its analysis of a large number of subjects. However, the diversity of cohorts examined and difficulty adjusting for smoking (since smoking is common in drinkers) make drawing clear conclusions challenging. Nonetheless, this study, like others, suggests a weak, positive association between consuming larger amounts of alcohol (>2 drinks a day) and lung cancer risk. Notably, the association was limited in subgroup analyses to nonsmokers and relatively small amounts of alcohol, though these findings need to be replicated before they can be definitively interpreted.

R. Curtis Ellison, MD


Freudenheim JL, Ritz J, Smith-Warner SA, et al. Alcohol consumption and risk of lung cancer: a pooled analysis of cohort studies. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005;82(3):657–667.