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1.  Mortality and cancer in relation to ABO blood group phenotypes in the Golestan Cohort Study 
BMC Medicine  2015;13:8.
A few studies have shown an association between blood group alleles and vascular disease, including atherosclerosis, which is thought to be due to the higher level of von Willebrand factor in these individuals and the association of blood group locus variants with plasma lipid levels. No large population-based study has explored this association with overall and cause-specific mortality.
We aimed to study the association between ABO blood groups and overall and cause-specific mortality in the Golestan Cohort Study. In this cohort, 50,045 people 40- to 70-years old were recruited between 2004 and 2008, and followed annually to capture all incident cancers and deaths due to any cause. We used Cox regression models adjusted for age, sex, smoking, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, place of residence, education and opium use.
During a total of 346,708 person-years of follow-up (mean duration 6.9 years), 3,623 cohort participants died. Non-O blood groups were associated with significantly increased total mortality (hazard ratio (HR) = 1.09; 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.01 to 1.17) and cardiovascular disease mortality (HR = 1.15; 95% CI: 1.03 to 1.27). Blood group was not significantly associated with overall cancer mortality, but people with group A, group B, and all non-O blood groups combined had increased risk of incident gastric cancer. In a subgroup of cohort participants, we also showed higher plasma total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) in those with blood group A.
Non-O blood groups have an increased mortality, particularly due to cardiovascular diseases, which may be due to the effect of blood group alleles on blood biochemistry or their effect on von Willebrand factor and factor VIII levels.
Please see related commentary 10.1186/s12916-014-0250-y.
PMCID: PMC4295491  PMID: 25592833
Blood group; ABO; Rh; Mortality; Cancer; Cardiovascular disease
2.  Opium; an emerging risk factor for gastric adenocarcinoma 
Opium use has been associated with higher risk of cancers of the esophagus, bladder, larynx, and lung; however, no previous study has examined its association with gastric cancer. There is also little information on the associations between hookah (water pipe) smoking or the chewing of tobacco products and the risk of gastric cancer. In a case-control study in Golestan Province of Iran, we enrolled 309 cases of gastric adenocarcinoma (118 noncardia, 161 cardia, and 30 mixed-location adenocarcinomas) and 613 matched controls. Detailed information on long-term use of opium, tobacco products, and other covariates were collected using structured and validated lifestyle and food frequency questionnaires. Odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CIs) were obtained using conditional logistic regression models. Opium use was associated with an increased risk of gastric adenocarcinoma, with an adjusted OR (95% CI) of 3.1 (1.9 – 5.1), and this increased risk was apparent for both anatomic subsites (cardia and noncardia). There was a dose-response effect, and individuals with the highest cumulative opium use had the strongest association (OR: 4.5; 95%CI: 2.3-8.5). We did not find a statistically significant association between the use of any of the tobacco products and risk of gastric adenocarcinoma, overall or by anatomic subsite. We showed, for the first time, an association between opium use and gastric adenocarcinoma. Given that opium use is a traditional practice in many parts of the world, these results are of public health significance.
PMCID: PMC3644384  PMID: 23319416
Opium; Adenocarcinoma; Cardia
3.  Variation in PAH-related DNA adduct levels among non-smokers: the role of multiple genetic polymorphisms and nucleotide excision repair phenotype 
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) likely play a role in many cancers even in never-smokers. We tried to find a model to explain the relationship between variation in PAH-related DNA adduct levels among people with similar exposures, multiple genetic polymorphisms in genes related to metabolic and repair pathways, and nucleotide excision repair (NER) capacity. In 111 randomly-selected female never-smokers from the Golestan Cohort Study in Iran, we evaluated 21 SNPs in 14 genes related to xenobiotic metabolism and 12 SNPs in 8 DNA repair genes. NER capacity was evaluated by a modified comet assay, and aromatic DNA adduct levels were measured in blood by 32P-postlabelling. Multivariable regression models were compared by Akaike’s information criterion (AIC). Aromatic DNA adduct levels ranged between 1.7 and 18.6 per 108 nucleotides (mean: 5.8±3.1). DNA adduct level was significantly lower in homozygotes for NAT2 slow alleles and ERCC5 non risk-allele genotype, and was higher in the MPO homozygote risk-allele genotype. The sum of risk alleles in these genes significantly correlated with the log-adduct level (r=0.4, p<0.001). Compared with the environmental model, adding phase I SNPs and NER capacity provided the best fit, and could explain 17% more of the variation in adduct levels. NER capacity was affected by polymorphisms in the MTHFR and ERCC1 genes. Female non-smokers in this population had PAH-related DNA adduct levels 3-4 times higher than smokers and occupationally-exposed groups in previous studies, with large inter-individual variation which could best be explained by a combination of phase I genes and NER capacity.
PMCID: PMC3597757  PMID: 23175176
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons; DNA adducts; nucleotide excision repair; polymorphism
4.  Association of tooth loss and oral hygiene with risk of gastric adenocarcinoma 
Poor oral health and tooth loss have been proposed as possible risk factors for some chronic diseases, including gastric cancer. However only a small number of studies have tested these associations.
We conducted a case-control study in Golestan Province, Iran, that enrolled 309 cases diagnosed with gastric adenocarcinoma (118 noncardia, 161 cardia, and 30 mixed-locations) and 613 sex, age and neighborhood matched controls. Data on oral health were obtained through physical examination and questionnaire including tooth loss, the number of decayed, missing, and filled teeth, and frequency of tooth brushing. Odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CIs) were obtained using conditional logistic regression models adjusted for potential confounders. Standard one degree-of-freedom linear trend test and a multiple degree of freedom global test of the effect of adding oral hygiene variables to the model were also calculated.
Our results showed apparent associations between tooth loss and DMFT score with risk of gastric cancer, overall and at each anatomic subsite. However, these associations were not monotonic and were strongly confounded by age. The results also showed that subjects who brushed their teeth less than daily were at significantly higher risk for gastric cardia adenocarcinoma OR (95% CI) of 5.6 (1.6–19.3).
We found evidence for an association between oral health and gastric cancer, but the non- monotonic association, the relatively strong effect of confounder adjustment, and inconsistent results across studies must temper the strength of any conclusions.
PMCID: PMC3644330  PMID: 23503651
Adenocarcinoma; Tooth loss; Oral health; Stomach
5.  A U-shaped relationship between haematocrit and mortality in a large prospective cohort study 
Background Only a limited number of studies have investigated the correlation between haematocrit (HCT) and mortality in the general population, and few of those studies have had data on a wide range of low and high levels of HCT. We investigated the association between baseline HCT and mortality in a prospective cohort study of 49 983 adult subjects in Iran with a broad spectrum of HCT values.
Methods Data on socio-demographic and life-style factors, past medical history, and levels of HCT were collected at enrollment. During a mean follow-up of 5 years (follow-up success rate ∼99%), 2262 deaths were reported. Cox proportional hazards regression models were used to estimate hazard ratios and corresponding 95% confidence intervals.
Results There was a U-shaped relationship between categories of HCT and mortality in both sexes: both low and high levels of HCT were associated with increased overall mortality and mortality from cardiovascular disease. The U-shaped relationship persisted after several sensitivity analyses were done, including analyses restricted to non-smokers and non-users of opium; analyses excluding deaths from accidents and other external causes as well as deaths of persons with self-reported ischemic heart disease at the baseline interview for the study; and analyses excluding the first 2 years of follow-up. Self-reported past medical history and lack of data about lipids and other cellular blood components were the major limitations of the study.
Conclusions Low and high levels of HCT are associated with increased mortality in the general population. The findings in the present study can be of particular importance for low- and middle-income countries in which a substantial proportion of the population lives with suboptimal levels of HCT.
PMCID: PMC3619954  PMID: 23569195
Anaemia; cancer; cardiovascular disease; erythrocytosis; haematocrit; mortality
6.  Determinants of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, Including Hookah Smoking and Opium Use– A Cross-Sectional Analysis of 50,000 Individuals 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e89256.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a common cause of discomfort and morbidity worldwide. However, information on determinants of GERD from large-scale studies in low- to medium-income countries is limited. We investigated the factors associated with different measures of GERD symptoms, including frequency, patient-perceived severity, and onset time.
We performed a cross-sectional analysis of the baseline data from a population-based cohort study of ∼50,000 individuals in in Golestan Province, Iran. GERD symptoms in this study included regurgitation and/or heartburn.
Approximately 20% of participants reported at least weekly symptoms. Daily symptoms were less commonly reported by men, those of Turkmen ethnicity, and nass chewers. On the other hand, age, body mass index, alcohol drinking, cigarette smoking, opium use, lower socioeconomic status, and lower physical activity were associated with daily symptoms. Most of these factors showed similar associations with severe symptoms. Women with higher BMI and waist to hip ratio were more likely to report frequent and severe GERD symptoms. Hookah smoking (OR 1.34, 95% CI 1.02–1.75) and opium use (OR 1.70, 95% CI 1.55–1.87) were associated with severe symptoms, whereas nass chewing had an inverse association (OR 0.87, 95% CI 0.76–0.99). After exclusion of cigarette smokers, hookah smoking was still positively associated and nass chewing was inversely associated with GERD symptoms (all frequencies combined).
GERD is common in this population. The associations of hookah and opium use and inverse association of nass use with GERD symptoms are reported for the first time. Further studies are required to investigate the nature of these associations. Other determinants of GERD were mostly comparable to those reported elsewhere.
PMCID: PMC3931722  PMID: 24586635
7.  Smoking water-pipe, chewing nass, and prevalence of heart disease – A cross-sectional analysis of baseline data from the Golestan Cohort Study, Iran 
Heart (British Cardiac Society)  2012;99(4):272-278.
Water-pipe and smokeless tobacco use have been associated with several adverse health outcomes. However, little information is available on the association between water-pipe use and heart disease (HD). Therefore, we investigated the association of smoking water-pipe and chewing nass (a mixture of tobacco, lime, and ash) with prevalent HD.
Cross-sectional study.
Baseline data (collected in 2004–2008) from a prospective population-based study in Golestan Province, Iran.
50,045 residents of Golestan (40–75 years old; 42.4% male).
Main outcome measures
ORs and 95% CIs from multivariate logistic regression models for the association of water-pipe and nass use with HD prevalence.
A total of 3051 (6.1%) participants reported a history of HD, and 525 (1.1%) and 3726 (7.5%) reported ever water-pipe or nass use, respectively. Heavy water-pipe smoking was significantly associated with HD prevalence (highest level of cumulative use versus never use, OR= 3.75; 95% CI 1.52 – 9.22; P for trend= 0.04). This association persisted when using different cutoff points, when restricting HD to those taking nitrate compound medications, and among never cigarette smokers. There was no significant association between nass use and HD prevalence (highest category of use versus never use, OR= 0.91; 95% CI 0.69 – 1.20).
Our study suggests a significant association between HD and heavy water-pipe smoking. Although the existing evidence suggesting similar biological consequences of water-pipe and cigarette smoking make this association plausible, results of our study were based on a modest number of water-pipe users and need to be replicated in further studies.
PMCID: PMC3671096  PMID: 23257174
hookah; ischemic heart disease; nass; tobacco; water-pipe
8.  The gastro-esophageal malignancies in Northern Iran research project: impact on the health research and health care systems in Iran 
Archives of Iranian medicine  2013;16(1):46-53.
Since 2000, considerable progress has been made in health research in Iran. An example of this progress has been the Gastro- Esophageal Malignancies in Northern Iran (GEMINI). The original aim of this project was to identify etiologic factors and prevention measures for upper gastrointestinal cancers in Northern provinces of Iran, but its achievements have gone much beyond the initial goal. This project is one of the largest studies in the Middle East and North African region, has helped build and strengthen research capacity at both individual and institutional levels in Iran, and has provided international credibility to research institutes and the wider research system in Iran. The success of GEMINI reveals the feasibility of large-scale studies in developing countries and serves as a successful model not only for health research institutes within Iran, but also for research systems in other developing countries. The outcomes of the project are numerous, including establishment of research networks, development of efficient methods for planning and implementation of research projects, and introduction of methodologies for project management, data management and usage of health technology. Finally and perhaps most importantly, GEMINI is among the few projects that has had a significant impact on the attitudes and concerns of decision makers in the health sector in Iran. It signifies the importance of investment in human resources and has proved that health policies should be health-based rather than patient-based. Here we review the impact of GEMINI on the health research system and the broader health care system of Iran and put these into a more global perspective.
PMCID: PMC3659328  PMID: 23273237
research design; prospective studies; pilot projects; feasibility studies; planning techniques; methods; cancer epidemiology; gastroenterology
9.  Significant variation in the concentration of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in yerba maté samples by brand, batch and processing method 
Environmental science & technology  2012;46(24):13488-13493.
Drinking maté, common in southern South America, may increase the risk of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC). In 2006, we found high but variable polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) content in commercial yerba maté samples from eight Brazilian brands. The PAH content of new samples from the same brands, purchased in 2008, and four brands from a single manufacturer processed in different ways, obtained in 2010, were quantified to determine whether PAH concentration was still high, PAH content variation was brand specific, and whether processing method affects PAH content of commercial yerba maté. Concentrations of individual PAHs were quantified using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry with deuterated PAHs as internal standards. Median total PAH concentration was 1500 ng/g (range: 625 to 3710 ng/g) and 1090 ng/g (621 to 1990 ng/g) in 2008 and 2010 samples, respectively. Comparing 2006 and 2008 samples, some brands had high PAH concentrations in both years, while PAH concentration changed considerably in others. Benzo[a]pyrene concentrations ranged from 11.9 to 99.3 ng/g and 5.11 to 21.0 ng/g in 2008 and 2010 samples, respectively. The 2010 sample processed without touching smoke had the lowest benzo[a]pyrene content. These results support previous findings of very high total and carcinogenic PAH concentrations in yerba maté, perhaps contributing to the high incidence of ESCC in southern South America. The large PAH content variation by brand, batch and processing method suggests it may be possible to reduce the content of carcinogenic PAHs in commercial yerba maté, making it a healthier beverage.
PMCID: PMC3525749  PMID: 23101992
Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons; Yerba Maté; Carcinogens; Esophageal Cancer; Benzo(α)pyrene; Processing Method; Lifestyle
10.  Predicting esophageal squamous cell carcinoma and squamous dysplasia: risk modeling in a high risk area in Iran 
Archives of Iranian Medicine  2012;15(1):18-21.
Identifying people at higher risk of having squamous dysplasia, the precursor lesion for esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC), would allow targeted endoscopic screening.
We used multivariate logistic regression models to predict ESCC and dysplasia as outcomes. The ESCC model was based on data from the Golestan Case-Control Study (total n=871; cases=300), and the dysplasia model was based on data from a cohort of subjects from a GI clinic in Northeast Iran (total n=724; cases=26). In each of these analyses, we fit a model including all risk factors known in this region to be associated with ESCC. Individual risks were calculated using the linear combination of estimated regression coefficients and individual-specific values for covariates. We used cross-validation to determine the area under the curve (AUC) and to find the optimal cut points for each of the models.
The model had an area under the curve of 0.77 (95% CI: 0.74–0.80) to predict ESCC with 74% sensitivity and 70.4% specificity for the optimum cut point. The area under the curve was 0.71 (95% CI: 0.64–0.79) for dysplasia diagnosis, and the classification table optimized at 61.5% sensitivity and 69.5% specificity. In this population, the positive and negative predictive values for diagnosis of dysplasia were 6.8% and 97.8%, respectively.
Our models were able to discriminate between ESCC cases and controls in about 77%, and between individuals with and without squamous dysplasia in about 70% of the cases. Using risk factors to predict individual risk of ESCC or squamous dysplasia still has limited application in clinical practice, but such models may be suitable for selecting high risk individuals in research studies, or increasing the pretest probability for other screening strategies.
PMCID: PMC3294378  PMID: 22208438
11.  Is Opium a Real Risk Factor for Esophageal Cancer or Just a Methodological Artifact? Hospital and Neighborhood Controls in Case-Control Studies 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(3):e32711.
Control selection is a major challenge in epidemiologic case-control studies. The aim of our study was to evaluate using hospital versus neighborhood control groups in studying risk factors of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC).
Methodology/Principal Findings
We compared the results of two different case-control studies of ESCC conducted in the same region by a single research group. Case definition and enrollment were the same in the two studies, but control selection differed. In the first study, we selected two age- and sex-matched controls from inpatient subjects in hospitals, while for the second we selected two age- and sex-matched controls from each subject's neighborhood of residence. We used the test of heterogeneity to compare the results of the two studies. We found no significant differences in exposure data for tobacco-related variables such as cigarette smoking, chewing Nass (a tobacco product) and hookah (water pipe) usage, but the frequency of opium usage was significantly different between hospital and neighborhood controls. Consequently, the inference drawn for the association between ESCC and tobacco use did not differ between the studies, but it did for opium use. In the study using neighborhood controls, opium use was associated with a significantly increased risk of ESCC (adjusted OR 1.77, 95% CI 1.17–2.68), while in the study using hospital controls, this was not the case (OR 1.09, 95% CI 0.63–1.87). Comparing the prevalence of opium consumption in the two control groups and a cohort enrolled from the same geographic area suggested that the neighborhood controls were more representative of the study base population for this exposure.
Hospital and neighborhood controls did not lead us to the same conclusion for a major hypothesized risk factor for ESCC in this population. Our results show that control group selection is critical in drawing appropriate conclusions in observational studies.
PMCID: PMC3291619  PMID: 22396792
12.  Diabetes Mellitus and Its Correlates in an Iranian Adult Population 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(10):e26725.
The rising epidemic of diabetes imposes a substantial economic burden on the Middle East. Using baseline data from a population based cohort study, we aimed to identify the correlates of diabetes mellitus (DM) in a mainly rural population from Iran. Between 2004 and 2007, 50044 adults between 30 and 87 years old from Golestan Province located in Northeast Iran were enrolled in the Golestan Cohort Study. Demographic and health-related information was collected using questionnaires. Individuals' body sizes at ages 15 and 30 were assessed by validated pictograms ranging from 1 (very lean) to 7 in men and 9 in women. DM diagnosis was based on the self-report of a physician's diagnosis. The accuracy of self-reported DM was evaluated in a subcohort of 3811 individuals using fasting plasma glucose level and medical records. Poisson regression with robust variance estimator was used to estimate prevalence ratios (PR's). The prevalence of self-reported DM standardized to the national and world population was 5.7% and 6.2%, respectively. Self-reported DM had 61.5% sensitivity and 97.6% specificity. Socioeconomic status was inversely associated with DM prevalence. Green tea and opium consumption increased the prevalence of DM. Obesity at all ages and extreme leanness in childhood increased diabetes prevalence. Being obese throughout life doubled DM prevalence in women (PR: 2.1; 95% CI: 1.8, 2.4). These findings emphasize the importance of improving DM awareness, improving general living conditions, and early lifestyle modifications in diabetes prevention.
PMCID: PMC3203882  PMID: 22053206
13.  Cavernous hemangioma of the liver: factors affecting disease progression in general hepatology practice 
Although for asymptomatic hepatic hemangiomas, conservative management is generally recommended, factors affecting disease course are still not very well understood.
To determine disease characteristics of cavernous hemangioma and factors affecting its progression in patients from a general hepatology clinic in Tehran, Iran.
We reviewed medical records of 198 patients with cavernous hemangioma of the liver visiting a large private hepatology clinic in Tehran from 1997 to 2007. Of a total of 198 cases, 129 could be followed up for a period of 3.2±2.5 years, and 80 of these had 1 to 5 repeat sonographies.
Patients were between 27 and 84 years old (mean age 44.3±10.9), and 131 (66.2%) were female. Thirty-six patients (18.2%) had giant hemangiomas. Abdominal pain was the primary reason for evaluation in 100 (50.5%) patients. Abdominal pain at the beginning of follow-up was significantly associated with having irritable bowel syndrome (OR=8.3; 95%CI: 3.1-28.7) or other GI diseases (OR=3.9; 95%CI: 2.6-10.2), but not with hemangioma size, number or location. During follow-up, having a single giant lesion at the time of diagnosis, adjusted for age, sex and presence of IBS, was a strong predictor of persistent pain during follow-up (OR=11.1; 95%CI: 3.2-38.6). In repeat sonographies, 35% showed increased size, which was significantly associated only with having a single lesion (p=0.04).
Many symptoms in hepatic hemangioma are attributable to accompanying GI diseases. Patients with a single giant lesion are more likely to have persistent pain, and single lesions are more likely to grow in size.
PMCID: PMC3076672  PMID: 21383624
liver; hemangioma; ultrasonography
14.  Verbal Autopsy: Reliability and Validity Estimates for Causes of Death in the Golestan Cohort Study in Iran 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(6):e11183.
Verbal autopsy (VA) is one method to obtain valid estimates of causes of death in the absence of valid medical records. We tested the reliability and validity of a VA questionnaire developed for a cohort study in Golestan Province in northeastern Iran.
A modified version of the WHO adult verbal autopsy was used to assess the cause of death in the first 219 Golestan Cohort Study (GCS) subjects who died. The GCS cause of death was determined by two internists who independently reviewed all available medical records. Two other internists (“reviewers”) independently reviewed only the VA answers and classified the cause of death into one of nine general categories; they repeated this evaluation one month later. The reliability of the VA was measured by calculating intra-reviewer and inter-reviewer kappa statistics. The validity of the VA was measured using the GCS cause of death as the gold standard.
VA showed both good validity (sensitivity, specificity, PPV, and NPV all above 0.81) and reliability (kappa>0.75) in determining the general cause of death independent of sex and place of residence. The overall multi-rater agreement across four reviews was 0.84 (95%CI: 0.78–0.89). The results for identifying specific cancer deaths were also promising, especially for upper GI cancers (kappa = 0.95). The multi-rater agreement in cancer subgroup was 0.93 (95%CI: 0.85–0.99).
VA seems to have good reliability and validity for determining the cause of death in a large-scale adult follow up study in a predominantly rural area of a middle-income country.
PMCID: PMC2887437  PMID: 20567597
15.  Opium use and mortality in Golestan Cohort Study: prospective cohort study of 50 000 adults in Iran 
Objectives To investigate the association between opium use and subsequent risk of death.
Design Prospective cohort study.
Setting The Golestan Cohort Study in north-eastern Iran collected detailed validated data on opium use and other exposures at baseline. Participants were enrolled between January 2004 and June 2008 and were followed to May 2011, with a follow-up success rate of over 99%.
Participants 50 045 participants aged 40-75 at baseline.
Main outcomes Mortality, all cause and major subcategories.
Results 17% (n=8487) of the participants reported opium use, with a mean duration of 12.7 years. During the follow-up period 2145 deaths were reported. The adjusted hazard ratio for all cause mortality associated with ever use of opium was 1.86 (95% confidence interval 1.68 to 2.06). Opium consumption was significantly associated with increased risks of deaths from several causes including circulatory diseases (hazard ratio 1.81) and cancer (1.61). The strongest associations were seen with deaths from asthma, tuberculosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (11.0, 6.22, and 5.44, respectively). After exclusion of people who self prescribed opium after the onset of major chronic illnesses, the associations remained strong with a dose-response relation.
Conclusion Opium users have an increased risk of death from multiple causes compared with non-users. Increased risks were also seen in people who used low amounts of opium for a long period and those who had no major illness before use.
PMCID: PMC3328545  PMID: 22511302

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