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Gut. 2012 Nov;61(11):1533-7. Epub 2011 Dec 16.

Serum ghrelin is inversely associated with risk of subsequent oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma.

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  • 1Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute, 6120 Executive Blvd., Rockville, MD 20892, USA.



Gastric atrophy, as determined by a low serum pepsinogen I:II ratio, may be associated with an increased risk of oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC). Ghrelin, a hormone which, is also produced in the gastric fundic glands may be a marker of gastric atrophy, but its association with OSCC is not known.


To examine the relationship between baseline serum ghrelin concentration and subsequent risk of OSCC, the authors conducted a nested case-control study within the Alpha-Tocopherol, Beta-Carotene Cancer Prevention (ATBC) study. 82 cases of OSCC were matched (1:1) by age and date of blood draw to controls from the ATBC study. Serum ghrelin was measured by radioimmunoassay. ORs and 95% CIs were calculated using conditional logistic regression with adjustment for potential confounders.


For individuals in the lowest quartile of serum ghrelin, compared to those in the highest, the multivariate OR of subsequent OSCC was 6.83 (95% CI 1.46 to 31.84). These associations were dose dependent (p value for trend =0.005 for both), and independent of the effects of low pepsinogen I:II ratio and Helicobacter pylori infection. The significance of these associations remained even for individuals developing OSCC up to 10 years after baseline ghrelin measurement, although they become attenuated after 10 years.


Lower baseline concentrations of serum ghrelin were associated with an increase in risk of OSCC. Further studies are needed to confirm this finding in other populations and to explore the role of ghrelin in the aetiology of OSCC.

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