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Arch Iran Med. 2012 Nov;15(11):713-22. doi: 0121511/AIM.0013.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and esophageal squamous cell carcinoma.

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Digestive Diseases Research Center, Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran.


Esophageal cancer (EC) is the 8th most common cancer and the 6th most frequent cause of cancer mortality worldwide. Esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) is the most common type of EC. Exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) has been suggested as a risk factor for developing ESCC. In this paper we will review different aspects of the relationship between PAH exposure and ESCC. PAHs are a group of compounds that are formed by incomplete combustion of organic matter. Studies in humans have shown an association between PAH exposure and development of ESCC in many populations. The results of a recent case-control study in a high risk population in northeastern Iran showed a dramatic dose-response relationship between PAH content in non-tumor esophageal tissue (the target tissue for esophageal carcinogenesis) and ESCC case status, consistent with a causal role for PAH exposure in the pathogenesis of ESCC.  Identifying the main sources of exposure to PAHs may be the first and most important step in designing appropriate PAH-reduction interventions for controlling ESCC, especially in high risk areas. Coal smoke and drinking mate have been suggested as important modifiable sources of PAH exposure in China and Brazil, respectively. But the primary source of exposure to PAHs in other high risk areas for ESCC, such as northeastern Iran, has not yet been identified. Thus, environmental studies to determining important sources of PAH exposure should be considered as a high priority in future research projects in these areas.

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