Background: Correct control selection is crucial to the internal validity of case-control studies. Little information exists on differences between population and hospital controls in case-control studies on cancers in Chinese hospital setting. Methods: We conducted three parallel case-control studies on leukemia, breast and colorectal cancers in China between 2009 and 2010, using population and hospital controls to separately match 540 incident cases by age, gender and residency at a 1:1 ratio. Demographic and lifestyle factors were measured using a validated questionnaire in face-to-face interview. Odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were obtained using conditional logistic regression analyses. Results: The two control groups had closely similar exposure distributions of 15 out of 16 factors, with the only exception being that hospital controls were less likely to have a BMI ≥ 25 (OR = 0.71, 95% CI: 0.54, 0.93). For exposure of green tea drinking, the adjusted ORs (95% CIs) comparing green tealeaves intake ≥ 1000 grams annually with non-drinkers were 0.51 (0.31, 0.83) and 0.21 (0.27, 0.74) for three cancers combined, 0.06 (0.01, 0.61) and 0.07 (0.01, 0.47) for breast cancer, 0.52 (0.29, 0.94) and 0.45 (0.25, 0.82) for colorectal cancer, 0.65 (0.08, 5.63) and 0.57 (0.07, 4.79) for leukemia using hospital and population controls respectively. Conclusions: The study found that hospital controls were comparable with population controls for most demographic characteristics and lifestyle factors measured, but there was a slight difference between the two control groups. Hospital outpatients provide a satisfactory control group in hospital-based case-control study in the Chinese hospital setting.