North-eastern Iran has long been known to have exceptionally high rates of oesophageal cancer, (particularly of the squamous cell variety). What hasn’t always been clear is why this is the case, and what we can do to change this. Studies from the 1970s suggested that these rates were due to lifestyle factors such as diets and drinking very hot tea, but we need more evidence. Oesophageal cancer is the sixth leading cause of cancer related death worldwide, so it is vital that we understand which factors are increasing the risk of this disease.
This is why we are funding Dr Paul Brennan who will look at potential links between various lifestyle factors and the risk of oesophageal cancer in 50,000 individuals in Iran. The lifestyle factors that will be evaluated include unhealthy diets, high body weight, low physical activity, opium consumption, alcohol consumption, tobacco use and drinking very hot drinks (>65 °C). These possible risk factors for oesophageal cancer will be looked at separately and in combination to see how they interact.
Making a difference
This study is expected to have a significant impact. Not only will it allow us to better understand why north-eastern Iran has such high oesophageal cancer rates, it will also suggest which is the best course of action in reducing these rates, potentially leading to more tailored cancer prevention strategies.
Because this research is looking at a huge number of people, we can reliably apply any conclusions on the causes of oesophageal cancer from this study to other populations beyond Iran, especially other regions where the incidence of oesophageal cancer is very high such as parts of Africa, China and South America. With oesophageal cancer being the eighth most common cancer in the world, this is information is vital.
There are nearly half a million new cases of oesophageal cancer around the world each year. Our hope is that this study will be instrumental in reducing the number of people affected by oesophageal cancer, in Iran and across the world.