Esophageal cancer incidence and mortality rates in Linxian, China are among the highest in the world. We examined risk factors for esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC), gastric cardia cancer (GCC), and gastric noncardia cancer (GNCC) in a population-based, prospective study of 29,584 adults who participated in the Linxian General Population Trial. All study participants completed a baseline questionnaire that included questions on demographic characteristics, personal and family history of disease, and lifestyle factors. After 15 years of follow-up, a total of 3,410 incident upper gastrointestinal cancers were identified, including 1,958 ESCC, 1,089 GCC and 363 GNCC. Cox proportional hazard models were used to estimate risks. Increased age and a positive family history of esophageal cancer (including ESCC or GCC) were significantly associated with risk at all 3 cancer sites. Additional risk factors for ESCC included being born in Linxian, increased height, cigarette smoking and pipe smoking; for GCC, male gender, consumption of moldy breads and pipe smoking; and for GNCC, male gender and cigarette smoking. Protective factors for ESCC included formal education, water piped into the home, increased consumption of meat, eggs and fresh fruits and increased BMI; for GCC, formal education, water piped into the home, increased consumption of eggs and fresh fruits and alcohol consumption; and for GNCC, increased weight and BMI. General socioeconomic status (SES) is a common denominator in many of these factors and improving SES is a promising approach for reducing the tremendous burden of upper gastrointestinal cancers in Linxian.