Biomarkers of Tobacco Carcinogenesis in Diverse Populations: Challenges and Opportunities

Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2023 Mar 6;32(3):289-291. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-22-1289.


Biomarkers can provide distinct information about cancer risk factors in populations from diverse ancestries and with different exposure patterns by measuring the internal dose of carcinogens. While similar environmental exposures can lead to different cancer risks across racial or ethnic groups, seemingly different exposures can cause the same cancers because they produce the same biomarkers in the body. Smoke-related biomarkers are among the most commonly studied biomarkers in relation to cancer, and they include tobacco-specific biomarkers (nicotine metabolites and tobacco-specific nitrosamines) and biomarkers which can result from exposure to tobacco and non-tobacco pollutants (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon and volatile organic compounds). Biomonitoring is superior to self-reported exposure assessment because it is less prone to information and recall biases. However, biomarkers generally reflect recent exposure determined by their metabolism and half-life and how they are stored in and excreted from the body. Many biomarkers are correlated because the sources of exposure usually contain several carcinogens at the same time, making it difficult to identify specific chemicals which lead to cancer. Despite these challenges, biomarkers will continue to be essential to cancer research. Prospective studies, with detailed exposure assessment and large sample sizes from diverse backgrounds, along with studies designed to enrich the methodology of biomarker research are the necessary steps in that direction. See related article by Cigan et al., p. 306.

Publication types

  • Editorial
  • Comment

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers
  • Carcinogenesis
  • Carcinogens
  • Cohort Studies
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Lung Neoplasms*
  • Nicotiana*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Smokers
  • Smoking


  • Carcinogens
  • Biomarkers