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In the United States, population-based studies indicate that Caucasians are 4 times as likely as African Americans to have esophageal adenocarcinoma. In addition, studies of patients referred for endoscopy showed a preponderance of Caucasians (70%?90%) among patients diagnosed with Barrett's esophagus (BE). Because gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is thought to predispose individuals to BE, which may further develop into esophageal adenocarcinoma, population-based studies have been conducted to examine the prevalence of GERD symptoms in the United States. None of these studies, however, has provided information on possible racial differences in the prevalence of GERD.
In the June 2004 issue of Gastroenterology, Hashem B. El-Serag, MD, and colleagues report the results of a cross-sectional survey and endoscopy study of 496 employees at a Veteran Administration medical center. Results showed that the age-adjusted prevalence of heartburn or regurgitation was not significantly different among African Americans, Caucasians, and other races. African Americans, however, did have a persistently lower risk for esophagitis. The authors conclude that Caucasians and African Americans in the United States have a similarly high prevalence of GERD symptoms; African Americans, however, have a lower prevalence of esophagitis, compared with Caucasians.