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Chronic inflammation caused by too little stomach acid leads to gastric cancer

ANN ARBOR, Mich. When it comes to gastric cancer, too little stomach acid can be just as dangerous as too much, according to scientists at the University of Michigan Medical School. Both extremes create inflammatory changes in the stomach lining and a condition called chronic atrophic gastritis, which over time often leads to cancer.

In research published in the March 31 issue of Oncogene, U-M scientists demonstrated that chronic gastritis progresses to gastric cancer in mice with abnormally low levels of gastrin a hormone that stimulates stomach lining cells called parietal cells to secrete hydrochloric acid. Other researchers have shown that over-production of gastrin in mice stimulates uncontrolled growth of cells in the stomach lining and the development of gastric tumors.

Most physicians are aware of the association between chronic inflammation and gastric cancer. They also know that infection with a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori, if left untreated, can cause stomach cancer. But the fact that lower-than-normal acidity can trigger pre-cancerous changes in the stomach lining is not well-known.

"Our study shows that inflammation, regardless of the cause, is the key to the development of gastric cancer," says Juanita L. Merchant, M.D., Ph.D., a U-M professor of internal medicine and of molecular and integrative physiology. "We're finding that there are many mechanisms, in addition to gastrin hypersecretion and H. pylori infection, capable of producing the chronic inflammatory changes that lead to cancer."

Most gastric cancers are adenocarcinomas, meaning they develop in epithelial cells lining the stomach. The American Cancer Society estimates that, in 2005, there will be 21,860 new cases of gastric cancer reported in the United States and 11,550 deaths from the disease.

"It's a fairly deadly type of cancer and difficult to treat, especially in advanced stages," according to Merchant. "Our goal is to identify gene
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4-Apr-2005


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