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Exposure to biomass smoke as a risk factor for oesophageal and gastric cancer in low-income populations: A systematic review

Violet Kayamba
Douglas C. Heimburger
Douglas R. Morgan
Masharip Atadzhanov
Paul Kelly


Background: Upper gastrointestinal cancers contribute significantly to cancer-related morbidity and mortality in sub-Saharan Africa, but they continue to receive limited attention. The high incidence in young adults remains unexplained, and the risk factors have not been fully described.

Methods: A literature search was conducted using the electronic database PubMed. Beginning from January 1980 to February 2016, all articles evaluating biomass smoke exposure with oesophageal and gastric cancer were reviewed.

Results: Over 70% of the African population relies on biomass fuel, meaning most Africans are exposed to biomass smoke throughout their lives. Cigarette smoke is an established risk factor for upper gastrointestinal cancers, and some of its carcinogenic constituents are also present in biomass smoke. We found eight case-control studies reporting associations between exposure to biomass smoke and oesophageal cancer, and two linking biomass smoke to gastric cancer. All of these papers reported significant positive associations between exposure and cancer risk. Further research is needed in order to fully define the constituents of biomass smoke, which could each have varying specific and synergistic or independent contributions to the development of upper gastrointestinal cancers

Conclusions: Exposure to biomass smoke is an environmental factor influencing the development of upper gastrointestinal cancers, especially in low-resource settings.

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1995-7262
print ISSN: 1995-7270