In order to examine the relationship between pure drinkers of alcoholic beverages and cancer of the oral cavity and pharynx, a case-control study was conducted in Uruguay between 1992 and 1996. 471 cases and 471 controls, admitted for diagnosis or treatment in the four major hospitals in Montevideo, were considered eligible for the study. Pure hard liquor drinking was associated with an increased risk of 3.6 (95% confidence limit (CL) 2.1-6.2), whereas pure wine drinking showed an odds ratio (OR) of 2.1 (95% CL 1.3-3.3). When pure hard liquor drinkers were compared with pure wine drinkers, the OR for pure liquor drinkers was 1.7 (95% CL 1.1-2.7). Furthermore, the risk associated with pure hard liquor drinking was analysed by subsite, and the highest odds ratios were observed for oral cavity cancer. Further studies should be carried out in order to replicate these findings in other populations.