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The authors used data collected from 1995 to 1999, from an on-going cancer case-control study in greater Johannesburg, to estimate the importance of tobacco and alcohol consumption and other suspected risk factors with respect to cancer of the oesophagus (267 men and 138 women), lung (105 men and 41 women), oral cavity (87 men and 37 women), and larynx (51 men). Cancers not associated with tobacco or alcohol consumption were used as controls (804 men and 1370 women). Tobacco smoking was found to be the major risk factor for all of these cancers with odds ratios ranging from 2.6 (95% CI 1.5-4.5) for oesophageal cancer in female ex-smokers to 50.9 (95% CI 12.6-204.6) for lung cancer in women, and 23.9 (95% CI 9.5-60.3) for lung cancer and 23.6 (95% CI 4.6-121.2) for laryngeal cancer in men who smoked 15 or more grams of tobacco a day. This is the first time an association between smoking and oral and laryngeal cancers has been shown in sub-Saharan Africa. Long-term residence in the Transkei region in the southeast of the country continues to be a risk factor for oesophageal cancer, especially in women (odds ratio=14.7, 95% CI 4.7-46.0), possibly due to nutritional factors. There was a slight increase in lung cancer (odds ratio=2.9, 95% CI 1.1-7.5) in men working in 'potentially noxious' industries. 'Frequent' alcohol consumption, on its own, caused a marginally elevated risk for oesophageal cancer (odds ratio=1.7, 95% CI 1.0-2.9, for women and odds ratio=1.8, 95% CI 1.2-2.8, for men). The risks for oesophageal cancer in relation to alcohol consumption increased significantly in male and female smokers (odds ratio=4.7, 95% CI=2.8-7.9 in males and odds ratio=4.8, 95% CI 3.2-6.1 in females). The above results are broadly in line with international findings.

Original publication




Journal article


Br J Cancer

Publication Date





1751 - 1756


Adolescent, Adult, African Continental Ancestry Group, Aged, Alcohol Drinking, Case-Control Studies, Educational Status, Female, Geography, Humans, Laryngeal Neoplasms, Life Style, Lung Neoplasms, Male, Middle Aged, Mouth Neoplasms, Risk Factors, Sex Characteristics, Smoking, South Africa, Surveys and Questionnaires