Researchers say tobacco and alcohol used together increase esophageal cancer risk

It’s well known that smoking, chewing tobacco and drinking alcohol are each associated with health risks.

Now researchers say tobacco usage and drinking together increases the risk of cancer in the esophagus synergistically.

Joel Rubenstein is an assistant professor and research scientist at University of Michigan.

He said the impacts of both are greater than researchers expected.

“If someone used both, then their risk of cancer increased by over 200 percent,” Rubenstein said, “So using both combined has a bigger effect than using one alone. And there’s probably a bigger risk if someone uses a lot of tobacco or a lot of alcohol.”

Rubenstein said the squamous cell cancer impacts 400,000 people worldwide.

“In our study we found that tobacco alone increased the risk of esophageal squamous cell cancer by about 36 percent alone, and alcohol alone might increase the risk by about 21 percent,” Rubenstein said, “But if someone used both then their risk of cancer increased by over 200 percent.”

He said in the U.S. the squamous cell variety is more common for Asian and African Americans than Caucasian populations.

“We’re hoping to model- use computer simulations to estimate the risk for esophageal squamous cell cancer in various populations,” Rubenstein said, “That’s not something that’s been done extensively before. And see if there maybe interventions like screening that might make sense in those people.”

The National Cancer Institute estimates 15,000 people are expected to die from esophageal cancer this year in the U.S.