In order to explore the potential differences in the effect of alcohol in men and women we took advantage of a case-control study of upper aerodigestive tract tumors conducted between 1986 and 1991 in Northern Italy Five hundred forty-six incidence cases of cancer of the oral cavity and pharynx (of whom 81 were women), 410 of cancer of the esophagus (of whom 67 were women), and 388 with cancer of the larynx, (of whom 19 were women) were interviewed. The control group included 2263 inpatients (of whom 557 were women) with acute conditions unrelated to alcohol and tobacco consumption. Among alcohol drinkers, similar odds ratios were detected in men and women. In the highest, well comparable intake category (i.e., > or = 42 drinks/week in women and 42-55 drinks/week in men), odds ratios were 4.5 and 3.8 for cancer of the oral cavity and pharynx, 3.0 and 4.7 for cancer of the esophagus, and 2.6 and 2.0 for cancer of the larynx in women and men, respectively, as compared to light drinkers. However, for all cancer sites a reduced risk was found among abstaining women but not in abstaining men, when compared with light-to-moderate drinkers. The present study, therefore, does not support the hypothesis that women may be substantially more vulnerable than men to alcohol carcinogenesis, at least at the level of the upper aerodigestive tract.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

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