Gene variation may be early indicator for gastric cancer

Researchers at the University of Arizona Health Sciences are hoping to catch stomach cancer before it develops in at-risk patients. In a paper published in Gastroenterology, researchers identified a genetic variation that could help identify when patients with Helicobacter pylori are more likely to develop stomach cancer.

The National Cancer Institute cites infection with H. pylori as the primary identified cause of certain types of stomach cancer. H. pylori is a bacterium that grows in the mucosa, or membrane layer that lines the stomach.

“This study is proposing that if you are carrying this particular allele, you are more likely to have an aggressive type of response to the bacteria that can result in complications,” said the study’s senior author, Juanita L. Merchant, MD, PhD, Regents Professor of Medicine and chief of the Division of Gastroenterology at the UArizona College of Medicine — Tucson.

In the United States, H. pylori is more prevalent in Hispanics, African Americans and the elderly. Dr. Merchant cited data suggesting that 1-3% of people with H. pylori will develop gastric cancer and that the cure rate is around 30%, which is low compared with some other types of cancer.

Current diagnosis of stomach or gastric cancer requires the patient to undergo an upper endoscopy, where a doctor looks for signs of cancer and takes a tissue sample for analysis.

For years, Dr. Merchant and colleagues have been investigating new ways to diagnose stomach cancer in its earliest possible stages. In 2020, they published research on a promising biomarker that appears in some patients before stomach cancer develops.

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