Background: Estrogen might protect women against gastric adenocarcinoma of the intestinal histological type. We addressed this hypothesis and proposed that gastric estrogen receptors (ERs) are involved.
Methods: A population-based cohort of patients with gastric adenocarcinoma diagnosed in 1958-2004 in the county of Stockholm was identified through the Swedish Cancer Register. The patients were categorized regarding their endogenous estrogen exposure at diagnosis into: women aged less than 50 years, labelled "exposed women" (n=364), men aged less than 50 years, labelled "unexposed men" (n=396), and women aged more than 70 years, labelled "unexposed women" (n=3008). Tumor specimens were reviewed, and 289 cases were classified into intestinal (n=101) or diffuse type (n=188). Cases of intestinal adenocarcinomas (n=45) were tested for presence of ERalpha, ERbeta, and ERbeta cx by immunohistochemistry.
Results: Compared to "exposed women", the intestinal type of gastric adenocarcinoma was more than four times more common among "unexposed men" (odds ratio [OR], 4.7; 95% confidence interval [CI], 2.2-10.3) and nine times more common among "unexposed women" (OR, 9.1; 95% CI, 4.3-19.6). No differences in ER expression were found. A comparison of ERs in tissues taken from the tumors and adjacent gastric mucosa revealed a loss of ERbeta and a gain of ERalpha in the tumor cells. The presence of ERbeta cx was identified for the first time in gastric tumors.
Conclusion: Gastric adenocarcinoma of the intestinal type is less common in women with high endogenous estrogen exposure, indicating a preventive effect of estrogen. No differences in the distribution of ERs was found between the three estrogen exposure groups. The presence of ERbeta cx in gastric cancer warrants further investigation.