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Why does Japan have a high incidence of gastric cancer? Comparison of gastritis between UK and Japanese patients


Background and aims: The incidence of gastric cancer in Japan is four times higher than in the UK. It usually arises in a stomach with corpus predominant or pangastritis that has undergone extensive atrophy and intestinal metaplasia. We hypothesised that a Japanese population would have a more severe gastritis with a corpus predominant or pangastritis pattern and a greater degree of atrophy and intestinal metaplasia than that found in the UK. To test this we designed a comparative trial.

Methods: A total of 252 age matched consecutive patients were recruited from the endoscopy services in Leeds and Tokyo. In each centre, 21 patients were prospectively selected from each decennial, between the ages of 20–80 years. All had epigastric discomfort as their predominant symptom. Patients with peptic ulcer, cancer, and oesophagitis were excluded. Five gastric biopsies were examined by two histopathologists using the updated Sydney system. Helicobacter pylori infection was assessed by histology and culture of biopsies and enzyme linked immunosorbent assay and immunoblot of plasma.

Results: Gastritis was found by both pathologists in 59 (47%) UK and 76 (60%) Japanese patients (χ2 test, p = 0.04). In those patients with gastritis, corpus predominant or pangastritis was commoner in the Japanese (63% Japan v 36% in the UK (χ2 test, p = 0.003) Atrophy and intestinal metaplasia were more extensive and severe (Mann-Whitney U test, p<0.001) and chronic inflammation and polymorph activity were also greater, especially in the corpus (Mann-Whitney U test, p<0.001). Fifty three of 59 UK gastritis patients (90%) and 67/76 (88%) (χ2 test, p = 1) Japanese gastritis patients were positive for H pylori. Using a previously described “gastric cancer risk index” among H pylori positive patients, there were significantly more Japanese than UK subjects with a “high risk” score.

Conclusion: In Japanese as opposed to English patients, gastritis is more prevalent and severe with more corpus predominant atrophy and intestinal metaplasia. These differences may partially explain the higher incidence of gastric cancer in Japan.

  • IM, intestinal metaplasia
  • IQR, interquartile range
  • IL, interleukin
  • TNF-α, tumour necrosis factor α
  • gastritis
  • Helicobacter pylori
  • population comparison
  • gastric cancer risk

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