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Gene May Explain Why Some Have Higher Stomach Cancer Risk

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Neal J. Meropol, MD, tells WebMD that a test for the gene variation that El-Omar found would help doctors decide which patients are at high risk for gastric cancer. Those patients could then be singled out for especially careful follow-up. Meropol, who was not involved in the study, is director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Program at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia.

"It is clear that there is an interaction between environmental factors and the host, or patient, in terms of risk for many types of cancer," Meropol says. "Why do some people smoke but never develop lung cancer? Why do some patients with H. pylori get ulcers while others develop gastric cancer? ...The future is that we are going to be [examining the genes of] both the tumor and the patient to determine the best approach to therapy."

Vital Information:

  • Researchers have found a genetic explanation for why people infected with H. pylori are at high risk for either stomach cancer or ulcers, but not both.
  • Some people have a gene that causes them to produce low levels of gastric acid, leaving the stomach less able to fight off toxins and the H. pylori infection, which can lead to cancer.
  • Others, who lack the gene, produce higher levels of gastric acid in the stomach, which kills off infection but may cause ulcer formation.
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