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Daily Rx: Stomaching Acid Reflux’s Link to Cancer

January 17, 2012

Credit: By: Laurie Stoneham

One particularly lethal form of esophageal cancer has baffled medical scientists for decades. New research may have found the missing piece to the puzzle.

Researchers have discovered that inflammation and bile acid reflux may be at the heart of esophageal cancer. These abnormal stomach cells move into the esophagus, causing a deadly form of cancer.

Timothy C. Wang, M.D. from Columbia University, led a new study that shows esophageal adenocarcinoma may be closely linked to the behavior of stomach cells associated with acid reflux disease and Barrett’s esophagus (BE; a pre-cancerous condition where the cells of the esophagus change into cells that resemble the small intestine).

“A major unanswered question that has been debated for decades is whether BE cells originate from the lining of the esophagus itself or from the region of the stomach called the cardia that is adjacent to the esophagus,” Dr. Wang explained in a news release announcing the study results.

Dr. Wang worked with coauthor Dr. Michael Quante, from the Technical University of Munich, and colleagues to engineer an animal model of BE and adenocarcinoma that closely mirrors human disease. Researchers injected the mice with a molecule that’s associated with esophageal inflammation.

They found that inflammation and bile acid caused cells from the cardia to travel to the esophagus. This discovery identified that the transformation of these cells was associated with the beginnings of cancer in both mice and humans.

These two findings suggest that abnormal BE and esophageal cancer cells begin in the stomach and not in the esophagus.

“The fact that BE always begins precisely at the junction where the esophagus meets the stomach has never been explained, and now it seems clear that special consideration should be given to inflammation of the gastric cardia as it may represent a precursor of BE and esophageal adenocarcinoma,” concludes Dr. Wang.

The research was published by Cell Press in the January 17, 2012 issue of the journal Cancer Cell.

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