A new study published in the journals Cancer Cell has revealed that genomic technologies provide better insights into intestinal metaplasia (IM), a known risk factor for gastric (stomach) cancer. Patients with IM are six times more likely to develop stomach cancer than those without. The research could also help detect patients who are infected with the Helicobacter pylori bacteria, which is also linked to the disease.
Stomach cancer is the third deadliest cancer in the world according to World Health Organization (WHO) statistics and claims more than 300 lives yearly in Singapore. The disease is believed to be caused by infection with Helicobacter pylori but is potentially treatable if detected early. Unfortunately, more than two-thirds of stomach cancer patients are only diagnosed at an advanced stage.
Previous genetic studies on IM have mainly focused on patients who were already diagnosed with stomach cancer but these are limited in their ability to predict who is likely to develop the disease and how the disease will progress. The new study is the first to comprehensively map out the genetic changes in IM in a cohort of stomach cancer-free subjects, which helps us better predict the possible occurrence and progression of the disease.
Dr Yeoh Khay Guan, the co-lead investigator said, "Our study is the largest series of IM to be studied in detail by genetic analysis. These new findings help us understand why some people have a higher risk of progression to stomach cancer, and identify those who may benefit from closer follow-up to prevent cancer or to detect it early so that it can be cured."
The researchers leveraged the near 3,000 participants-strong Gastric Cancer Epidemiology Programme (GCEP) cohort, recruited with the support of patients and doctors from four local public hospitals (National University Hospital, Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Singapore General Hospital, Changi General Hospital).
The team showed that a comprehensive analysis of the genetic patterns of IM can predict its subsequent progression towards stomach cancer. The genetic analysis of IM helps to identify those with a higher risk of progression to stomach cancer. The research team is using this new information to identify biomarkers that can be applied in future in the clinic to identify people who have a high risk of progression to stomach cancer.