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BACKGROUND—Controversy has arisen on the natural history of early gastric cancer (EGC). While some emphasise the effectiveness of early detection in reducing mortality from gastric cancer, others insist that EGC is a pseudo-cancer.
AIMS/PATIENTS/METHODS—To elucidate the natural history of EGC, a non-concurrent, long term, follow up study was conducted in 71 patients who were diagnosed endoscopically as having EGC, which was confirmed as cancer on biopsy, but in whom surgical resection was not conducted or delayed by more than six months.
RESULTS—The natural course of EGC was observed in 56 cases. Over a period of 6-137 months, 20 remained in the early stage while 36 progressed to the advanced stage. The proportion remaining in the early stage consistently decreased with time. Median duration of those who remained in the early stage was estimated as 44 months. The cumulative five year risk for progressing to the advanced stage was 63.0%. In 38 cases there was no evidence for undergoing surgical resection for gastric cancer. The cumulative five year corrected survival was estimated as 62.8% among those unresected. Hazard rate ratio for gastric cancer mortality was 0.65 (p=0.34) for screening detected versus non-screening detected. Hazard rate ratio for gastric cancer mortality was 0.51, significantly lower for patients whose operations were delayed compared with those unresected.
CONCLUSIONS—Although EGC showed a relatively long natural history in general, it progressed to the advanced stage with time and led to death from gastric cancer for the most part if left untreated.
Keywords: early gastric cancer; natural history