Published on October 14, 2013 at 3:13 AM
"These findings establish strong starting points for further epidemiologic studies to pin down the causal variants, and laboratory studies to identify the mechanisms by which the causal variants might affect the development of Barrett's esophagus and esophageal adenocarcinoma," Vaughan said. "The fact that all four of the new loci are in or near genes associated with early development of the esophagus or already associated with oncogenic activity is particularly exciting, as it implies that we may be close to finding some important pathways in the development of this highly fatal disease."
Ultimately, the researchers believe these findings will contribute to the development of new screening tools to identify those at highest risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma and its precursor, particularly when combined with established risk factors such as obesity and gastric reflux. "Down the line we anticipate that a better understanding of the pathophysiology of these diseases will lead to better and earlier treatments," Vaughan said.
Barrett's is associated with chronic heartburn and affects an estimated 1 million to 2 million Americans. While the risk of developing esophageal cancer in a person with Barrett's is only about 0.5 percent per year, the outlook is grim if the disease is not diagnosed early. The majority of patients with invasive esophageal cancer die within a year of diagnosis.
This year, esophageal cancer will strike nearly 18,000 Americans and kill more than 15,000. Esophageal adenocarcinoma, which accounts for more than 60 percent of esophageal-cancer cases, is seven times more common in men than women.
Source: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center