Metabolomic profiling of upper GI malignancies in blood and tissue: a systematic review and meta-analysis

J Cancer Res Clin Oncol. 2024 Jul 1;150(7):331. doi: 10.1007/s00432-024-05857-5.


Objective: To conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis of case-control and cohort human studies evaluating metabolite markers identified using high-throughput metabolomics techniques on esophageal cancer (EC), cancer of the gastroesophageal junction (GEJ), and gastric cancer (GC) in blood and tissue.

Background: Upper gastrointestinal cancers (UGC), predominantly EC, GEJ, and GC, are malignant tumour types with high morbidity and mortality rates. Numerous studies have focused on metabolomic profiling of UGC in recent years. In this systematic review and meta-analysis, we have provided a collective summary of previous findings on metabolites and metabolomic profiling associated with EC, GEJ and GC.

Methods: Following the PRISMA procedure, a systematic search of four databases (Embase, PubMed, MEDLINE, and Web of Science) for molecular epidemiologic studies on the metabolomic profiles of EC, GEJ and GC was conducted and registered at PROSPERO (CRD42023486631). The Newcastle-Ottawa Scale (NOS) was used to benchmark the risk of bias for case-controlled and cohort studies. QUADOMICS, an adaptation of the QUADAS-2 (Quality Assessment of Diagnostic Accuracy) tool, was used to rate diagnostic accuracy studies. Original articles comparing metabolite patterns between patients with and without UGC were included. Two investigators independently completed title and abstract screening, data extraction, and quality evaluation. Meta-analysis was conducted whenever possible. We used a random effects model to investigate the association between metabolite levels and UGC.

Results: A total of 66 original studies involving 7267 patients that met the required criteria were included for review. 169 metabolites were differentially distributed in patients with UGC compared to healthy patients among 44 GC, 9 GEJ, and 25 EC studies including metabolites involved in glycolysis, anaerobic respiration, tricarboxylic acid cycle, and lipid metabolism. Phosphatidylcholines, eicosanoids, and adenosine triphosphate were among the most frequently reported lipids and metabolites of cellular respiration, while BCAA, lysine, and asparagine were among the most commonly reported amino acids. Previously identified lipid metabolites included saturated and unsaturated free fatty acids and ketones. However, the key findings across studies have been inconsistent, possibly due to limited sample sizes and the majority being hospital-based case-control analyses lacking an independent replication group.

Conclusion: Thus far, metabolomic studies have provided new opportunities for screening, etiological factors, and biomarkers for UGC, supporting the potential of applying metabolomic profiling in early cancer diagnosis. According to the results of our meta-analysis especially BCAA and TMAO as well as certain phosphatidylcholines should be implicated into the diagnostic procedure of patients with UGC. We envision that metabolomics will significantly enhance our understanding of the carcinogenesis and progression process of UGC and may eventually facilitate precise oncological and patient-tailored management of UGC.

Keywords: Cancer of the gastroesophageal junction; Esophageal cancer; Gastric cancer; Mass spectrometry; Meta-analysis; Metabolomic profile; Metabolomics; Oncometabolomic; Tumour microenvironment.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review
  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / blood
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / blood
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Esophagogastric Junction / metabolism
  • Esophagogastric Junction / pathology
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / blood
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Metabolome / physiology
  • Metabolomics* / methods
  • Stomach Neoplasms / blood
  • Stomach Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Stomach Neoplasms / metabolism


  • Biomarkers, Tumor