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J S C Med Assoc. 2006 Aug;102(7):201-9.

Esophageal cancer disparities in South Carolina: early detection, special programs, and descriptive epidemiology.

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  • 1Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina, 2221 Devine Street, Columbia, SC, 29208, USA.


Because of its high fatality rate and our inability to detect esophageal disease early in its development, esophageal cancer represents a significant medical and public health challenge. The mortality statistics underline the importance of focusing on prevention of these conditions as a matter of state and national public health priority. Unfortunately, the measures needed for primary prevention of these conditions do not seem as clear-cut for populations at highest risk of this disease (i.e., AAs) as for the populations represented in most epidemiologic studies. Our incomplete knowledge about the etiology of esophageal cancer, especially squamous cell carcinomas in AAs and adenocarcinomas in EAs, preclude developing and disseminating effective preventive measures. Clearly, the prevention and control of esophageal cancers represent a different paradigm compared to other tobacco-related cancers of the upper aerodigestive tract. Data from a number of studies indicate that disparities exist in esophageal cancer incidence between racial groups and between geographical locations within South Carolina, and that these disparities are continuing to increase. The reasons for these disparities are only beginning to receive attention. They probably will be found to be complex and multifaceted. A combination of genetic factors, environmental influences (e.g., those related to diet), and the deleterious changes associated with smoking and alcohol consumption are the obvious parameters that should be the focus of initial epidemiologic data collection and assessment. Issues around dietary assessment, a major area of expertise among researchers in South Carolina, must be addressed in these studies. Much remains to be done for us to understand how research, health care, and educational efforts in the state of South Carolina might influence the detection, care, treatment, and, ultimately, reduction in esophageal cancer incidence and mortality rates. An important step in the process will be to coordinate data-collection efforts between clinicians, researchers, and concerned community members in South Carolina. This would allow comprehensive background profiles of patients to be collected for studies ranging from those focusing on the basic biology of the disease and its etiology to those aimed at understanding the role of health services and the effect of policy. In order to design and implement the full range of research needed to understand what we can do to prevent and control esophageal cancer in our state, it is our intention to engage all of the stakeholders within South Carolina; including community members, cancer survivors, cancer care providers, researchers, and individuals at high risk of esophageal cancer. With its large proportion of rural, socioeconomically deprived African Americans, what is learned about esophageal cancer in South Carolina will have national, and perhaps international, relevance.

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