Researchers Identify Precursors to Esophageal and Gastric Cancer

What is the underlying cause of cancers such as esophageal adenocarcinoma or intestinal gastric cancer? Are there certain precursor cells that these cancers arise from? According to a news release from the University of Houston, UH researchers have been exploring the origins of these cancers to better understand them. Intriguingly, the research team found that both esophageal adenocarcinoma and intestinal gastric cancer seem to have identical precursor stem cells. 

The researchers found that the identical precursor stem cells for esophageal adenocarcinoma and intestinal gastric cancer become precursor lesions which include:

  • Barrett’s esophagus (an abnormal change in the mucosal cells that line the lower portion of the esophagus)
  • Gastric intestinal metaplasia 
  • Both high- and low-grade dysplasia

Although these cells arise from different regions within the gastrointestinal tract, the research team found that from genomic expression to homeotic transcription factors, the cells and lesions are cellularly identical. Further, given that these lesions are still present in advanced stages of cancer, researchers can track them to better understand how the cancer progresses.

Ultimately, more research is needed to understand these cells, the cancer progression, and how these could potentially be targeted for early detection and treatment development. However, these findings do show promise in improving patient outcomes in the future.

What is Gastric Cancer?

Also known as stomach cancer, gastric cancer occurs when cancerous cells form in the stomach’s lining. The stomach wall contains the mucosal (inner) layer, the muscularis (middle) layer, and the serosal (outer) layer. Gastric cancer begins in the mucosal layer and then spreads outwards. There are various forms of gastric cancer such as lymphoma, adenocarcinoma, stromal tumors, carcinoid tumors, small cell carcinoma, and leiomyosarcoma (among others). 

Risk factors for gastric cancer include being male, being older in age, H. pylori infection, gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD), obesity, smoking, a family history of stomach cancer, and a diet low in fruits/vegetables but high in salted, smoked foods. Symptoms often do not appear until later stages of the cancer. When symptoms do appear, they can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes)
  • Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)
  • Bloody stool
  • Chronic and severe indigestion and heartburn
  • Stomach pain
  • Feeling bloated or full after eating small portions
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Unintended weight loss
Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn has an educational background in writing and marketing. She firmly believes in the power of writing in amplifying voices, and looks forward to doing so for the rare disease community.

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