Columbia University Medical Center identifies origin of esophageal cancer

Medical professionals have tried to explain where and how esophageal adenocarcinoma (a form of esophageal cancer) arises. Cases of Esophageal adenocarcinoma steadily rise 7 to 8 percent a year and is the nation’s fastest-growing tumor.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD occurs when bile acid and other stomach contents leak backwards from the stomach to the esophagus. Over time, acid reflux can irritate and inflame the esophagus which can lead to Barrett’s esophagus, a precancerous condition. There is no present way to determine which patients who suffer from Barrett’s esophagus will develop esophageal cancer.

However, researchers at the Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) have identified critical cell and molecule changes which occur during the development of Barret’s esophagus and esophageal cancer.

The research was conducted by study leader Timothy C. Wang, MD, and Professors of Medicine at CUMC Dorothy L. and Daniel H. Silberberg and was published by Cell Press in the January 17th issue of the journal Cancer Cell.

The team used a transgenic mouse model of Barrett’s Esophagus and esophageal adenocarcimoma which closely resemble the disease found in humans. They found that the inflammation and bile acids caused cells from the cardia, a small region between the lower part of the esophagus and the upper, acid-secreting portion of the stomach, to move to the esophagus.

This transformation was associated with the beginning stages of cancer in both the mice and humans and shows that abnormal Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer cells actually begin in the upper part of the stomach and not in the esophagus.

Dr. Wang said, “The fact that Barrett’s esophagus always begins precisely at the junction where the esophagus meets the stomach has never been explained,” Dr. Wang continued that special attention needs to be given to the gastric cardia region of the stomach which can lead to Barrett’s esophagus and the deadly esophageal cancer.

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