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Abstract

A study was carried out in Swaziland to assess the relationship between aflatoxin exposure, hepatitis B infection, and the incidence of liver-cell carcinoma, which is the most commonly occurring malignancy among males in Swaziland. Levels of aflatoxin intake were evaluated in dietary samples from households across the country, and crop samples taken from representative farms. Prevalence of hepatitis B markers was estimated from the serum of blood donors, and liver cancer incidence was recorded for the years 1979–83 through a national system of cancer registration. Across 4 broad geographic regions, there was a more than 5-fold variation in the estimated daily intake of aflatoxin, ranging from 3.1 to 17.5 μg. The proportion of HBV-exposed individuals was very high (86% in men), but varied relatively little by geographic region; the prevalence of carriers of the surface antigen was 23% in men, and varied from 21 to 28%. Liver cancer incidence varied over a 5-fold range, and was strongly associated with estimated levels of aflatoxin. In an analysis involving 10 smaller subregions, aflatoxin exposure emerged as a more important determinant of the variation in liver cancer incidence than the prevalence of hepatitis infection. Aflatoxin estimates from crop samples appeared to be a reasonable surrogate for dietary measurements. A comparison with dietary aflatoxin levels measured in an earlier survey in Swaziland suggested that programmes aimed at reducing contamination levels had had some success.