We investigated the potential association of tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) promoter polymorphisms with cancers. The study included 169 patients with gastric cancer, uterine cervical cancer, colorectal cancer, or renal cell carcinoma and 92 healthy controls. The -308 and -238 polymorphisms in the TNF-alpha promoter were analyzed by PCR-restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP). The proportion of individuals carrying the TNF-238A allele was significantly lower in the cancer group than in the control group. The odds ratio for cancer in subjects with the TNF-238A allele was 0.25 (95% CI, 0.10-0.64). No association was found between the -308 polymorphism and cancers. These results suggest that the -238A allele has a protective function against cancers.