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carcinomas of gastric cardia and gastroesophageal junction

Saturday 16 February 2013

Cancers at gastric cardia and gastroesophageal junction (GEJ)

Gastric carcinoma is clinically classified as early or advanced stage to help determine appropriate intervention, and histologically into subtypes based on major morphologic component.

For the classification based on anatomic location, difficulty often arises when the tumor is located at proximal stomach or cardia, especially when the tumor also involves gastroesophageal junction (GEJ).

It is not only because there are shared histologic features and immunophenotypes between the inflamed gastric cardiac mucosa due to Helicobacter infection and the metaplastic columnar epithelium-lined distal esophageal mucosa secondary to reflux disease, but also because there is no universal consensus regarding the anatomic definition of gastric cardia.

Several classifications were proposed in order to address this issue. The scheme endorsed by the International Gastric Cancer Association separates gastric cancers into type I, type II and type III, to represent the tumors at distal esophagus, at cardia and at the stomach distal to cardia, respectively.

This classification, however, has not clearly defined the criteria for each of these anatomic locations. Most recently, the 7th Edition of the TNM classification by American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) has simplified the classification of the carcinoma at proximal stomach based on the location of tumor epicenter and the presence or absence of GEJ involvement.

The tumor is to be stage grouped as esophageal carcinoma if its epicenter is in the lower thoracic esophagus or GEJ, or within the proximal 5 cm of stomach (i.e., cardia) with the tumor mass extending into GEJ or distal esophagus.

If the epicenter is >5 cm distal to the GEJ, or within 5 cm of GEJ but does not extend into GEJ or esophagus, it is stage grouped as gastric carcinoma.

This classification, although easy for pathologists to follow, could still face some challenges.

For example, a bulky gastric cardiac cancer with its epicenter 4 cm below GEJ will still be diagnosed and classified as an esophageal tumor if the proximal end of tumor extends into GEJ by only 0.5 cm (even if the distal end of tumor is 4 cm from the epicenter extending into the stomach).

For the operating surgeon who sees the tumor in situ, it may be difficult for him or her to accept this tumor as an esophageal cancer.

In addition, a recent retrospective study by Huang et al. shows that cardiac carcinoma involving GEJ or distal esophagus is more appropriately classified and staged as gastric rather than esophageal cancers, at least in the Chinese population. In that study, cardiac carcinomas were staged according to the depth of invasion, status of positive lymph nodes and distant metastasis, as both gastric and esophageal tumors.

When the tumor stage is studied and compared with cumulative survival, the findings support that it is more appropriately to group and stage cardiac cancers as stomach in origin.

To better separate gastric cardiac carcinoma from esophageal or GEJ malignancy, more studies are apparently needed, such as a larger patient sample, molecular profiling of the tumor, clinical follow up data, and defining the tumor location after neoadjuvant therapy as to determine whether the initially bulky tumor was more “gastric” or more “GEJ/esophagus” in origin.