The aim of the present paper is to review and evaluate, in a comprehensive manner, the most recent published evidence on the contribution of genetic susceptibility to gastric cancer risk in humans. We have identified all studies available in MEDLINE published up to October 2001. Only studies carried out in humans and comparing gastric cancer cases with at least 1 standard control group were included in the analysis. We were able to find 31 articles based on 25 case-control studies carried out in Caucasian, Asian and African populations. Most of the studies assess the effect of genes involved in detoxifying pathways (n = 12) and inflammatory responses (n = 7). The most widely studied is the GSTM1 null polymorphism. Only a very few studies have evaluated the risk of gastric cancer associated with genes acting on mucosa protection, oxidative damage and DNA repair. The most consistent results are the increased gastric cancer risk associated with IL1B and NAT1 variants, which may account for up to 48% of attributable risk of gastric cancer. Only polymorphisms at HLA-DQ, TNF and CYP2E genes may confer some protective effect against gastric cancer. The most important limitations that preclude definitive conclusions are (i) the lack of appropriate control of potential sources of bias (only 5 population-based studies have been published so far); (ii) the low number of cases analyzed (14 studies included fewer than 99 cases); and (iii) the low number of studies (n = 3) offering concomitant analysis of genetic susceptibility and exposure to relevant cofactors (Helicobacter pylori infection, diet and smoking). We conclude that the scientific data on the role of genetic factors in gastric cancer risk are promising. The lack of association reported so far should be considered with caution due to significant limitations in study design. Cohort studies taking into account simultaneously the different genetic and environmental factors potentially involved in gastric tumorigenesis are needed to ascertain not only the relative contribution of these factors to tumor development but also the contribution of their putative interactions.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.