Association of wheat chaff derived silica fiber and esophageal cancer in north China

Ecotoxicol Environ Saf. 2019 Aug 30;178:79-85. doi: 10.1016/j.ecoenv.2019.04.031. Epub 2019 Apr 15.


Background: Despite decades of research and intervention programs, the epidemic of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) in the Taihang Mountain area of north China has not seen convincing explanation by any risk factor yet and the incidence has not seen a substantial decrease. Based on recently disclosed association of aridity and wheat consumption with esophageal cancer, we revisited the hypothesis of biogenic silica in esophageal cancer development.

Methods: From the archives of the Pathology Department of Heping Hospital, Changzhi Medical College, we selected three pairs of formalin-fixed samples, tumor tissues and distant normal tissues, of three patients operated for ESCC who had no history of workplace exposure to silica dust. Two pairs of dried tissue samples were used for phytolith (silica body) analysis and another pair for microanalysis with Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM).

Results: One of the phytoliths in ESCC tumor tissue was similar to the prickle hair on the surface of wheat bract. In the mineral particles detected in the tumor tissue the predominant elements were Si, Ca, and P, whereas Si signals were not obvious in the distant normal tissue.

Conclusions: The preliminary findings on the detection of phytoliths and the higher than normal Si concentration in ESCC tumor tissue warrants further testing the role of biogenic silica in esophageal cancer.

Keywords: Biogenic silica fiber; Esophageal cancer; Phytolith; Silicified prickle; Taihang mountain area; Wheat chaff.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • China / epidemiology
  • Dietary Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / chemistry
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Esophageal Squamous Cell Carcinoma / chemistry
  • Esophageal Squamous Cell Carcinoma / epidemiology*
  • Esophageal Squamous Cell Carcinoma / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Silicon Dioxide / administration & dosage
  • Silicon Dioxide / adverse effects
  • Silicon Dioxide / analysis*
  • Triticum / chemistry*
  • Triticum / ultrastructure


  • Silicon Dioxide