ARTICLE ABSTRACTCancers in the upper aerodigestive tract, including cancers of the tongue and the esophagus, are the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the world, and oxidative stress is well recognized as one of the major risk factors for carcinogenesis. The Keap1–Nrf2 system plays a critical role in cellular defense against oxidative stress, but little is known about its association with upper aerodigestive tract carcinogenesis. In this study, we examined whether loss of Nrf2-function exacerbates carcinogenesis by using an experimental carcinogenesis model that is induced by 4-nitroquinoline-1-oxide (4NQO). We found that Nrf2-knockout (Nrf2-KO) mice were more susceptible to 4NQO-induced tongue and esophageal carcinogenesis than wild-type mice, which suggests that Nrf2 is important for cancer prevention. We also examined how the suppression of Keap1 function or the induction of Nrf2 activity affected 4NQO carcinogenesis. Keap1-knockdown (Keap1-KD) mice were resistant to 4NQO-induced tongue and esophageal carcinogenesis. Importantly, no growth advantage was observed in tongue tumors in the Keap1-KD mice. These results show that the Keap1–Nrf2 system regulates an important defense mechanism against upper aerodigestive tract carcinogenesis. In addition to several important functions of Nrf2 that lead to cancer chemoprevention, we hypothesize that a mechanical defense of thickened keratin layers may also be a chemopreventive factor because thickened, stratified, squamous epithelium was found on the tongue of Keap1-KD mice. Cancer Prev Res; 6(2); 149–59. ©2012 AACR.