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Prevention and Early Detection

Early detection would markedly improve the prognosis of gastric cancer in the United States, because surgical resection has a high cure rate with lesions limited to the mucosa or submucosa. However, the incidence of such early gastric cancers is less than 5% in most U.S. series. In Japan, the incidence of carcinomas confined to the mucosa or submucosa was only 3.8% in the 1955 to 1956 period. However, by 1966 the incidence of early lesions had increased to 34.5% because of vigorous screening procedures, leading to 5-year survival rates of 90.9% in this cohort of patients.43 Although mass screening has been useful in Japan to detect early cancers, defined high-risk populations have not existed in the United States in the past to justify the expense of widespread screening endeavors. Whether screening of individuals with H. pylori infection would be of value is not yet known. Individual practitioners should use upper gastrointestinal (GI) series or preferably endoscopy to screen patients who have occupational or precursor risk factors or individuals with persistent dyspepsia or gastroesophageal symptoms.

Germline mutations in the CDH1 gene, which encodes the E-cadherin protein, have recently been recognized in families with hereditary diffuse gastric adenocarcinoma. Carriers of these mutations have a 70% lifetime risk of developing gastric cancer. Several reports of prophylactic gastrectomy have demonstrated the frequent presence of microscopic intraepithelial carcinomas in patients having regular endoscopic surveillance that includes multiple random biopsies.44-46 Early total gastrectomy has been recommended for this small patient population because of the lack of effective early tumor detection by less aggressive techniques. Microscopic evaluation of the proximal and distal resection margins for complete removal of the gastric mucosa is necessary, because residual gastric mucosa can degenerate and result in a gastric cancer.46