Led by post-doctoral research fellow, Aaron Thrift, this manuscript uses a technique called Mendelian randomization to add support to the hypothesis that obesity is causally related to Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal adenocarcinoma. Aaron recently joined the faculty of Baylor University where he is an assistant professor of epidemiology.

J Natl Cancer Inst. 2014 Sep 30;106(11)

Obesity and Risk of Esophageal Adenocarcinoma and Barrett’s Esophagus: A Mendelian Randomization Study.

Thrift AP, Shaheen NJ, Gammon MD, Bernstein L, Reid BJ, Onstad L, Risch HA, Liu G, Bird NC, Wu AH, Corley DA, Romero Y, Chanock SJ, Chow WH, Casson AG, Levine DM, Zhang R, Ek WE, MacGregor S, Ye W, Hardie LJ, Vaughan TL, Whiteman DC.

Abstract

BACKGROUND: Data from observational studies suggest that body mass index (BMI) is causally related to esophageal adenocarcinoma (EAC) and its precursor, Barrett’s esophagus (BE). However, the relationships may be affected by bias and confounding.

METHODS: We used data from the Barrett’s and Esophageal Adenocarcinoma Genetic Susceptibility Study: 999 patients with EAC, 2061 patients with BE, and 2169 population controls. We applied the two-stage control function instrumental variable method of the Mendelian randomization approach to estimate the unbiased, unconfounded effect of BMI on risk of EAC and BE. This was performed using a genetic risk score, derived from 29 genetic variants shown to be associated with BMI, as an instrument for lifetime BMI. A higher score indicates propensity to obesity. All tests were two-sided.

RESULTS: The genetic risk score was not associated with potential confounders, including gastroesophageal reflux symptoms and smoking. In the instrumental variable analyses (IV), EAC risk increased by 16% (IV-odds ratio [OR] = 1.16, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.01 to 1.33) and BE risk increased by 12% (IV-OR = 1.12, 95% CI = 1.00 to 1.25) per 1kg/m(2) increase in BMI. BMI was statistically significantly associated with EAC and BE in conventional epidemiologic analyses.

jnciCONCLUSIONS: People with a high genetic propensity to obesity have higher risks of esophageal metaplasia and neoplasia than people with low genetic propensity. These analyses provide the strongest evidence to date that obesity is independently associated with BE and EAC, and is not due to confounding or bias inherent in conventional epidemiologic analyses.