Background: A few studies have indicated inverse relationships between serum ghrelin and gastric and esophageal cancers but those associations have been restricted to specific populations, including smokers and overweight individuals. We examined the association between ghrelin and gastroesophageal cancers and atrophic gastritis in a population-based setting.
Methods: In total 220 gastroesophageal cancers, comprising non-cardia and cardia gastric cancer, esophageal adenocarcinoma, esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and age and gender-matched controls were recruited. Serum ghrelin, pepsinogen I/II ratio (PGI/II) and anti-H.pylori IgG antibodies were measured. Relationships between ghrelin and gastroesophageal cancers, after adjustment for PGI/II ratio, H.pylori status and smoking, were tested using logistic regression. Furthermore, in 125 endoscopically normal volunteers, with and without histological atrophic gastritis, the relationship with ghrelin was compared.
Results: Serum ghrelin (lowest vs. highest quintile) was inversely associated with gastric cancer: OR (95% CI) 8.71 (1.70-44.59) for cardia and 6.58 (1.26-34.46) for non-cardia cancer. Lower serum ghrelin was also associated with esophageal SCC: OR (95% CI) 5.69 (1.36-23.78), but not with esophageal adenocarcinoma. A similar association was observed between gastric cancer (cardia and non-cardia) and esophageal SCC when serum ghrelin was analysed as a continuous scaled variable. In endoscopically-normal volunteers, extensive atrophic gastritis was associated with low serum ghrelin [OR (95% CI) 0.25 (0.10-0.64)].
Conclusion: Inverse associations between ghrelin and some gastroesophageal cancers suggest a potential role for serum ghrelin as a biomarker of upper gastrointestinal cancers and atrophic gastritis. In areas with a high incidence of gastric and/or esophageal cancer, screening might be more effectively targeted to individuals with low serum ghrelin in addition to the PGI/II ratio.