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1.  Risk of Gastric Cancer by Water Source: Evidence from the Golestan Case-Control Study 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(5):e0128491.
Gastric cancer (GC) is the world’s fifth most common cancer, and the third leading cause of cancer-related death. Over 70% of incident cases and deaths occur in developing countries. We explored whether disparities in access to improved drinking water sources were associated with GC risk in the Golestan Gastric Cancer Case Control Study.
Methods and Findings
306 cases and 605 controls were matched on age, gender, and place of residence. We conducted unconditional logistic regression to calculate odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (CI), adjusted for age, gender, ethnicity, marital status, education, head of household education, place of birth and residence, homeownership, home size, wealth score, vegetable consumption, and H. pylori seropositivity. Fully-adjusted ORs were 0.23 (95% CI: 0.05–1.04) for chlorinated well water, 4.58 (95% CI: 2.07–10.16) for unchlorinated well water, 4.26 (95% CI: 1.81–10.04) for surface water, 1.11 (95% CI: 0.61–2.03) for water from cisterns, and 1.79 (95% CI: 1.20–2.69) for all unpiped sources, compared to in-home piped water. Comparing unchlorinated water to chlorinated water, we found over a two-fold increased GC risk (OR 2.37, 95% CI: 1.56–3.61).
Unpiped and unchlorinated drinking water sources, particularly wells and surface water, were significantly associated with the risk of GC.
PMCID: PMC4449025  PMID: 26023788
2.  The Clinical Performance of an Office-Based Risk Scoring System for Fatal Cardiovascular Diseases in North-East of Iran 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(5):e0126779.
Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) are becoming major causes of death in developing countries. Risk scoring systems for CVD are needed to prioritize allocation of limited resources. Most of these risk score algorithms have been based on a long array of risk factors including blood markers of lipids. However, risk scoring systems that solely use office-based data, not including laboratory markers, may be advantageous. In the current analysis, we validated the office-based Framingham risk scoring system in Iran.
The study used data from the Golestan Cohort in North-East of Iran. The following risk factors were used in the development of the risk scoring method: sex, age, body mass index, systolic blood pressure, hypertension treatment, current smoking, and diabetes. Cardiovascular risk functions for prediction of 10-year risk of fatal CVDs were developed.
A total of 46,674 participants free of CVD at baseline were included. Predictive value of estimated risks was examined. The resulting Area Under the ROC Curve (AUC) was 0.774 (95% CI: 0.762-0.787) in all participants, 0.772 (95% CI: 0.753-0.791) in women, and 0.763 (95% CI: 0.747-0.779) in men. AUC was higher in urban areas (0.790, 95% CI: 0.766-0.815). The predicted and observed risks of fatal CVD were similar in women. However, in men, predicted probabilities were higher than observed.
The AUC in the current study is comparable to results of previous studies while lipid profile was replaced by body mass index to develop an office-based scoring system. This scoring algorithm is capable of discriminating individuals at high risk versus low risk of fatal CVD.
PMCID: PMC4444120  PMID: 26011607
3.  Global Changes in Gene Expression of Barrett's Esophagus Compared to Normal Squamous Esophagus and Gastric Cardia Tissues 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(4):e93219.
Barrett's esophagus (BE) is a metaplastic precursor lesion of esophageal adenocarcinoma (EA), the most rapidly increasing cancer in western societies. While the prevalence of BE is increasing, the vast majority of EA occurs in patients with undiagnosed BE. Thus, we sought to identify genes that are altered in BE compared to the normal mucosa of the esophagus, and which may be potential biomarkers for the development or diagnosis of BE.
We performed gene expression analysis using HG-U133A Affymetrix chips on fresh frozen tissue samples of Barrett's metaplasia and matched normal mucosa from squamous esophagus (NE) and gastric cardia (NC) in 40 BE patients.
Using a cut off of 2-fold and P<1.12E-06 (0.05 with Bonferroni correction), we identified 1324 differentially-expressed genes comparing BE vs NE and 649 differentially-expressed genes comparing BE vs NC. Except for individual genes such as the SOXs and PROM1 that were dysregulated only in BE vs NE, we found a subset of genes (n = 205) whose expression was significantly altered in both BE vs NE and BE vs NC. These genes were overrepresented in different pathways, including TGF-β and Notch.
Our findings provide additional data on the global transcriptome in BE tissues compared to matched NE and NC tissues which should promote further understanding of the functions and regulatory mechanisms of genes involved in BE development, as well as insight into novel genes that may be useful as potential biomarkers for the diagnosis of BE in the future.
PMCID: PMC3979678  PMID: 24714516
4.  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
5.  Genetic Variants in Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor Pathway Genes and Risk of Esophageal Squamous Cell Carcinoma and Gastric Cancer in a Chinese Population 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):e68999.
The epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) signaling pathway regulates cell proliferation, differentiation, and survival, and is frequently dysregulated in esophageal and gastric cancers. Few studies have comprehensively examined the association between germline genetic variants in the EGFR pathway and risk of esophageal and gastric cancers. Based on a genome-wide association study in a Han Chinese population, we examined 3443 SNPs in 127 genes in the EGFR pathway for 1942 esophageal squamous cell carcinomas (ESCCs), 1758 gastric cancers (GCs), and 2111 controls. SNP-level analyses were conducted using logistic regression models. We applied the resampling-based adaptive rank truncated product approach to determine the gene- and pathway-level associations. The EGFR pathway was significantly associated with GC risk (P = 2.16×10−3). Gene-level analyses found 10 genes to be associated with GC, including FYN, MAPK8, MAP2K4, GNAI3, MAP2K1, TLN1, PRLR, PLCG2, RPS6KB2, and PIK3R3 (P<0.05). For ESCC, we did not observe a significant pathway-level association (P = 0.72), but gene-level analyses suggested associations between GNAI3, CHRNE, PAK4, WASL, and ITCH, and ESCC (P<0.05). Our data suggest an association between specific genes in the EGFR signaling pathway and risk of GC and ESCC. Further studies are warranted to validate these associations and to investigate underlying mechanisms.
PMCID: PMC3715462  PMID: 23874846
6.  Attributable Causes of Esophageal Cancer Incidence and Mortality in China 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(8):e42281.
To estimate the contribution of tobacco smoking, alcohol drinking, low vegetable intake and low fruit intake to esophageal cancer mortality and incidence in China.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We calculated the proportion of esophageal cancer attributable to four known modifiable risk factors [population attributable fraction (PAF)]. Exposure data was taken from meta-analyses and large-scale national surveys of representative samples of the Chinese population. Data on relative risks were also from meta-analyses and large-scale prospective studies. Esophageal cancer mortality and incidence came from the 3rd national death cause survey and population-based cancer registries in China. We estimated that 87,065 esophageal cancer deaths (men 67,686; women: 19,379) and 108,206 cases (men: 83,968, women: 24,238) were attributable to tobacco smoking, alcohol drinking, low vegetable intake and low fruit intake in China in 2005. About 17.9% of esophageal cancer deaths among men and 1.9% among women were attributable to tobacco smoking. About 15.2% of esophageal cancer deaths in men and 1.3% in women were caused by alcohol drinking. Low vegetable intake was responsible for 4.3% esophageal cancer deaths in men and 4.1% in women. The fraction of esophageal cancer deaths attributable to low fruit intake was 27.1% in men and 28.0% in women. Overall, 46% of esophageal cancers (51% in men and 33% in women) were attributable to these four modifiable risk factors.
Tobacco smoking, alcohol drinking, low vegetable intake and low fruit intake were responsible for 46% of esophageal cancer mortality and incidence in China in 2005. These findings provide useful data for developing guidelines for esophageal cancer prevention and control in China.
PMCID: PMC3410925  PMID: 22876312
7.  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
8.  Extremely High Tp53 Mutation Load in Esophageal Squamous Cell Carcinoma in Golestan Province, Iran 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(12):e29488.
Golestan Province in northeastern Iran has one of the highest incidences of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) in the world with rates over 50 per 100,000 person-years in both sexes. We have analyzed TP53 mutation patterns in tumors from this high-risk geographic area in search of clues to the mutagenic processes involved in causing ESCC.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Biopsies of 119 confirmed ESCC tumor tissue from subjects enrolled in a case-control study conducted in Golestan Province were analyzed by direct sequencing of TP53 exons 2 through 11. Immunohistochemical staining for p53 was carried out using two monoclonal antibodies, DO7 and 1801. A total of 120 TP53 mutations were detected in 107/119 cases (89.9%), including 11 patients with double or triple mutations. The mutation pattern was heterogeneous with infrequent mutations at common TP53 “hotspots” but frequent transversions potentially attributable to environmental carcinogens forming bulky DNA adducts, including 40% at bases known as site of mutagenesis by polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Mutations showed different patterns according to the reported temperature of tea consumption, but no variation was observed in relation to ethnicity, tobacco or opium use, and alcoholic beverage consumption or urban versus rural residence.
ESCC tumors in people from Golestan Province show the highest rate of TP53 mutations ever reported in any cancer anywhere. The heterogeneous mutation pattern is highly suggestive of a causative role for multiple environmental carcinogens, including PAHs. The temperature and composition of tea may also influence mutagenesis.
PMCID: PMC3246475  PMID: 22216294
9.  Accuracy and Cut-Off Values of Pepsinogens I, II and Gastrin 17 for Diagnosis of Gastric Fundic Atrophy: Influence of Gastritis 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(10):e26957.
To establish optimal cutoff values for serologic diagnosis of fundic atrophy in a high-risk area for oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma and gastric cancer with high prevalence of Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) in Northern Iran, we performed an endoscopy-room-based validation study.
We measured serum pepsinogens I (PGI) and II (PGII), gastrin 17 (G-17), and antibodies against whole H. pylori, or cytotoxin-associated gene A (CagA) antigen among 309 consecutive patients in two major endoscopy clinics in northeastern Iran. Updated Sydney System was used as histology gold standard. Areas under curves (AUCs), optimal cutoff and predictive values were calculated for serum biomarkers against the histology.
309 persons were recruited (mean age: 63.5 years old, 59.5% female). 84.5% were H. pylori positive and 77.5% were CagA positive. 21 fundic atrophy and 101 nonatrophic pangastritis were diagnosed. The best cutoff values in fundic atrophy assessment were calculated at PGI<56 µg/l (sensitivity: 61.9%, specificity: 94.8%) and PGI/PGII ratio<5 (sensitivity: 75.0%, specificity: 91.0%). A serum G-17<2.6 pmol/l or G-17>40 pmol/l was 81% sensitive and 73.3% specific for diagnosing fundic atrophy. At cutoff concentration of 11.8 µg/l, PGII showed 84.2% sensitivity and 45.4% specificity to distinguish nonatrophic pangastritis. Exclusion of nonatrophic pangastritis enhanced diagnostic ability of PGI/PGII ratio (from AUC = 0.66 to 0.90) but did not affect AUC of PGI. After restricting study samples to those with PGII<11.8, the sensitivity of using PGI<56 to define fundic atrophy increased to 83.3% (95%CI 51.6–97.9) and its specificity decreased to 88.8% (95%CI 80.8–94.3).
Among endoscopy clinic patients, PGII is a sensitive marker for extension of nonatrophic gastritis toward the corpus. PGI is a stable biomarker in assessment of fundic atrophy and has similar accuracy to PGI/PGII ratio among populations with prevalent nonatrophic pangastritis.
PMCID: PMC3204997  PMID: 22066020
10.  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
11.  Esophageal Cancer in Young People: A Case Series of 109 Cases and Review of the Literature 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(11):e14080.
Certain geographically distinct areas of the world have very high rates of esophageal cancer (EC). Previous studies have identified western Kenya as a high risk area for EC with an unusual percentage of cases in subjects 30 years of age or younger. To better understand EC in these young patients, we abstracted available data on all 109 young patients diagnosed with EC at Tenwek Hospital, Bomet District, Kenya from January 1996 through June 2009, including age at diagnosis, sex, ethnicity, tumor histology, residence location, and medical interventions. We also attempted to contact all patients or a family member and obtained information on ethnicity, tobacco and alcohol use, family history of cancer, and survival. Sixty (55%) representatives of the 109 young patients were successfully interviewed. The median survival time of these 60 patients was 6.4 months, the most common tumor histology was esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) (98%), the M:F ratio was 1.4∶1, and only a few subjects used tobacco (15%) or alcohol (15%). Seventy-nine percent reported a family history of cancer and 43% reported having a family history of EC. In summary, this case series describes the largest number of young EC patients reported to date, and it highlights the uniqueness of the EC experience in western Kenya.
PMCID: PMC2989919  PMID: 21124934
12.  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

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