Findings in epidemiological studies of the relationship between Helicobacter pylori and gastric cancer have been inconsistent: many studies have yielded a positive relationship, whereas several studies have shown no relationship. The inconsistency arises because of the occurrence of seroreversion during the period between the time that H. pylori exerts a carcinogenic effect and the time of blood sampling. When this seroreversion is taken into account, there is an epidemiologically positive association between H. pylori status and the risk for gastric cancer. In addition to the epidemiological evidence, experimental studies using Mongolian gerbils have shown that H. pylori infection elevates the risk for gastric cancer. It is concluded that H. pylori is a causal factor for gastric cancer. In the creation of preventive strategies against gastric cancer by the eradication of H. pylori, determination of the time at which H. pylori plays a role as a carcinogen is important. Three hypotheses have been proposed in regard to this timing: that H. pylori infection in childhood or the teenage years acts as a factor that produces precancerous lesions with irreversible damage in the gastric mucosa, that in adulthood it acts as an initiator, and also in adulthood, that it acts as a promoter. As these hypotheses are not mutually exclusive, the extent to which each hypothesis plays a part in explaining gastric carcinogenesis should be evaluated. Only a small proportion of subjects infected with H. pylori have gastric cancer during their lifetime. Interleukin-1 polymorphism, a host factor, and CagA, a virulence factor of H. pylori, are suspected to be risk factors for gastric cancer in subjects with H. pylori infection. Dietary factors, especially vitamin C, and patterns of precancerous lesions also seem to influence the relationship between H. pylori and gastric cancer. H. pylori seems to reduce the risk for esophageal and for some gastric cardia adenocarcinomas. This finding, as well as determination of the time at which H. pylori exerts this preventive effect, should be considered in the creation of preventive strategies against gastric cancer that target the eradication of H. pylori.
Received: June 1, 2001 / Accepted: October 16, 2001