Logo of envhperEnvironmental Health PerspectivesBrowse ArticlesAbout EHPGeneral InformationAuthorsMediaProgramsPartnerships
Environ Health Perspect. 1997 Jun; 105(Suppl 4): 897–900.
PMCID: PMC1470049
Research Article

Ethnic differences in cancer incidence: a marker for inherited susceptibility?


Cancer incidence varies markedly by ethnicity and geographic location. Ethnic variation in cancer occurrence has traditionally been ascribed to differences in social, cultural, economic, and physical environments. However, this interpretation of the epidemiologic evidence may need to be revised as a result of new biological evidence and theories of carcinogenesis. Carcinogenesis is now recognized to be a multistep process during which mutations or heritable changes in expression occur in genes involved in cellular growth control and genome stability. Inherited cancer susceptibility may be a stronger determinant of ethnic differences in cancer incidence than is currently appreciated. To examine the potential role of inherited susceptibility, the theoretical contribution of inherited susceptibility to ethnic differences in rates in considered using a simple probability model. Germline mutations in tumor suppressor genes BRCA1 and p53 are used to illustrate the magnitude of the ethnic differences for breast cancer that might arise from differences in inherited susceptibility. Our simple model suggests that ethnic differences in cancer occurrence can result from differences in genetic susceptibility. However, the magnitude of ethnic relative risk is likely to more strongly reflect differences in the distribution of susceptibility genotypes between groups than the magnitude of the disease risk associated with the genotypes. For many scenarios, the ethnic relative risk arising from differences in susceptibility may be bounded by the ratio of the proportion of susceptible individuals in each group.

Full text

Full text is available as a scanned copy of the original print version. Get a printable copy (PDF file) of the complete article (825K), or click on a page image below to browse page by page. Links to PubMed are also available for Selected References.

Selected References

These references are in PubMed. This may not be the complete list of references from this article.
  • Knudson AG., Jr The genetic predisposition to cancer. Birth Defects Orig Artic Ser. 1989;25(2):15–27. [PubMed]
  • Knudson AG., Jr Hereditary cancer, oncogenes, and antioncogenes. Cancer Res. 1985 Apr;45(4):1437–1443. [PubMed]
  • Shields PG. Pharmacogenetics: detecting sensitive populations. Environ Health Perspect. 1994 Dec;102 (Suppl 11):81–87. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Inoue R, Fukutomi T, Ushijima T, Matsumoto Y, Sugimura T, Nagao M. Germline mutation of BRCA1 in Japanese breast cancer families. Cancer Res. 1995 Aug 15;55(16):3521–3524. [PubMed]
  • Ford D, Easton DF, Bishop DT, Narod SA, Goldgar DE. Risks of cancer in BRCA1-mutation carriers. Breast Cancer Linkage Consortium. Lancet. 1994 Mar 19;343(8899):692–695. [PubMed]
  • Johannsson O, Ostermeyer EA, Håkansson S, Friedman LS, Johansson U, Sellberg G, Brøndum-Nielsen K, Sele V, Olsson H, King MC, et al. Founding BRCA1 mutations in hereditary breast and ovarian cancer in southern Sweden. Am J Hum Genet. 1996 Mar;58(3):441–450. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Struewing JP, Abeliovich D, Peretz T, Avishai N, Kaback MM, Collins FS, Brody LC. The carrier frequency of the BRCA1 185delAG mutation is approximately 1 percent in Ashkenazi Jewish individuals. Nat Genet. 1995 Oct;11(2):198–200. [PubMed]
  • Barkardóttir RB, Arason A, Egilsson V, Gudmundsson J, Jónasdóttir A, Jóhannesdóttir G. Chromosome 17q-linkage seems to be infrequent in Icelandic families at risk of breast cancer. Acta Oncol. 1995;34(5):657–662. [PubMed]
  • Miki Y, Swensen J, Shattuck-Eidens D, Futreal PA, Harshman K, Tavtigian S, Liu Q, Cochran C, Bennett LM, Ding W, et al. A strong candidate for the breast and ovarian cancer susceptibility gene BRCA1. Science. 1994 Oct 7;266(5182):66–71. [PubMed]
  • Easton DF, Bishop DT, Ford D, Crockford GP. Genetic linkage analysis in familial breast and ovarian cancer: results from 214 families. The Breast Cancer Linkage Consortium. Am J Hum Genet. 1993 Apr;52(4):678–701. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Szabo CI, King MC. Inherited breast and ovarian cancer. Hum Mol Genet. 1995;4(Spec No):1811–1817. [PubMed]
  • Ford D, Easton DF. The genetics of breast and ovarian cancer. Br J Cancer. 1995 Oct;72(4):805–812. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Goldgar DE, Reilly PR. A common BRCA1 mutation in the Ashkenazim. Nat Genet. 1995 Oct;11(2):113–114. [PubMed]
  • Knudson AG. Antioncogenes and human cancer. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1993 Dec 1;90(23):10914–10921. [PMC free article] [PubMed]

Articles from Environmental Health Perspectives are provided here courtesy of National Institute of Environmental Health Science


Save items

Related citations in PubMed

See reviews...See all...

Cited by other articles in PMC

See all...


  • MedGen
    Related information in MedGen
  • PubMed
    PubMed citations for these articles

Recent Activity

Your browsing activity is empty.

Activity recording is turned off.

Turn recording back on

See more...