Racial differences in risk of oral and pharyngeal cancer: Alcohol, tobacco, and other determinants

Gina L. Day, William J. Blot, Donald F. Austin, Leslie Bernstein, Raymond S. Greenberg, Susan Preston-martin, Janet B. Schoenberg, Deborah M. Winn, Joseph K. Mclaughlin, Joseph F. Fraumeni

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180 Scopus citations


Background: In the United States, Blacks have increasingly higher rates of oral and pharyngeal cancer (oral cancer) than Whites, but determinants of the racial disparity have not been clear. Purpose: The purpose of this study was to explore reasons for the higher incidence of oral cancer among Blacks than Whites. Methods: We used data from a large, population-based case-control study of oral cancer risk factors conducted in four areas of the United States. On the basis of interviews that ascertained characteristics of 1065 oral cancer patients (871 Whites and 194 Blacks) and 1182 controls (979 Whites and 203 Blacks), we examined racial differences in exposure prevalences and relative risks for a number of known etiologic factors, including tobacco and alcohol consumption, diet, and socioeconomic and other variables. To evaluate the extent to which the major risk factors explained the excess risk of oral cancer among Blacks, population-attributable risks were calculated. Results: Differences with respect to alcohol consumption, especially among current smokers, emerged as the most important explanatory variables. After adjusting for smoking, heavy drinking ({greater-than equal to or less-than}30 drinks/week) resulted in a 17-fold increased risk among Blacks and a ninefold increase among Whites. Among drinkers, Blacks tended to drink more than Whites. Also, a higher (P = .01) percentage of Blacks (37%) than Whites (28%) were current smokers, although there were little or no racial differences in relative risks or patterns of use for other smoking variables, including number of cigarettes smoked per day, years of smoking, and age started smoking. From population-attributable risk calculations, we estimated that differences in alcohol and tobacco use account for the bulk of the higher incidence of oral cancer among Blacks in the United States and that, in the absence of alcohol and tobacco, the rates of this cancer according to race (Black, White) and gender would be nearly equal. With regard to other potential etiologic factors, protective effects provided by higher dietary intake of fruits and vitamin C were more pronounced for Whites, while Blacks more often tended to be in socio-demographic and medical or dental health categories associated with increased risk. Conclusions: These analyses provide evidence that various environmental or life-style determinants of oral cancer may contribute to the higher oral cancer rates in Blacks than in Whites in the United States, but that patterns and risks associated with alcohol consumption, particularly among current smokers, are the most important contributors to the excess risk in Blacks. Implications: These findings suggest that the key to prevention of oral and pharyngeal cancers among both Blacks and Whites is reduced intake of alcoholic beverages and, because of strong interactive effects, the cessation of smoking. [J Natl Cancer Inst 85:465-473, 1993]

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)465-473
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the National Cancer Institute
Issue number6
StatePublished - Mar 17 1993
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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