Are racial differences in squamous cell esophageal cancer explained by alcohol and tobacco use?

Linda Morris Brown, Robert N. Hoover, Raymond S. Greenberg, Janet B. Schoenberg, Ann G. Schwartz, G. Marie Swanson, Jonathan M. Liff, Debra T. Silverman, Richard B. Hayes, Linda M. Pottern

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Background: In the United States, incidence rates of squamous cell esophageal cancer are more than five times higher among black men than among white men. Reasons that might explain this large racial disparity are being sought. Purpose: We evaluated whether differential use of alcohol and tobacco can fully account for the excess of squamous cell esophageal cancer among U.S. blacks. Methods: We conducted a population-based, case-control study with in-person interviews with 373 squamous cell esophageal cancer case patients (124 white males and 249 black males) and 1364 control subjects (750 white males and 614 black males) from three U.S. geographic areas. Histologically confirmed cases of squamous cell esophageal cancer newly diagnosed from August 1, 1986, through April 30, 1989, among white and black men aged 30-79 years were included. Results: Alcohol use of more than one drink per day and/or current cigarette use of at least one pack per day accounted for 92.7% (95% confidence interval [CI] = 86.8%-98.5%) of the squamous cell esophageal cancers in blacks, versus 86.3% (95% CI = 75.5%-97.1%) in whites, and for 94% of the difference between the black and white annual incidence rates. The interaction between race and the continuous drinking/smoking variable in a logistic regression analysis was statistically significant (two-sided, P =.02). Exposure rates among controls at all levels of combined alcohol and tobacco use examined were slightly higher among blacks and accounted for a small portion of the racial differences in incidence rates. Conclusion: Although the vast majority of esophageal cancers in both blacks and whites in our data can be explained by use of alcohol and tobacco, it is not clear why heavy consumption of alcohol and/or tobacco is responsible for 14.9 per 100 000 per year more cases of squamous cell esophageal cancer among blacks than among whites. The differences in the odds ratios appear to account for more of the racial differences in incidence rates than do the prevalences of exposure to alcohol and tobacco alone. The reasons for this apparent racial difference in carcinogenic risk from the same level of alcohol and tobacco use are unknown, but they may include qualitative differences in alcohol consumption, differences in other environmental exposures that interact with alcohol and/or tobacco to modify risks, or differences in susceptibility to these factors. [J Natl Cancer Inst 86: 1340-1345, 1994].

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1340-1345
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of the National Cancer Institute
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 7 1994
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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