Cohort studies have rarely examined the association between upper aero-digestive tract (UADT) cancer risk and lifetime alcohol intake. We examined the associations between incident squamous cell carcinoma of the UADT (oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, and esophagus) and alcohol intake for different periods in life using data from the Melbourne Collaborative Cohort Study.Usual alcohol intake for 10-year periods from age 20 was calculated using recalled frequency and quantity of beverage-specific consumption. Cox regression with age as the time axis was performed to estimate hazard ratios (HR) and 95 % confidence intervals (CI) for the associations of UADT cancer with alcohol intake for different periods in life compared with abstention.During a mean follow-up of 16.2 person-years, 98 incident cases of UADT cancer were identified. We observed a dose-dependent association between lifetime alcohol intake and the risk of UADT cancer (multivariable-adjusted HR 2.67, 95 % CI 1.27-5.60 for an intake of ≥40 g/day and multivariable-adjusted HR 1.16, 95 % CI 1.06-1.28 for a 10 g/day increment in intake). A positive association with baseline alcohol intake (multivariable-adjusted HR 1.12, 95 % CI 1.02-1.24 for a 10 g/day increment in intake) was found to be a slightly weaker predictor of risk than lifetime intake.Limiting alcohol intake from early adulthood may reduce UADT cancer risk.