Esophageal adenocarcinoma (EAC) claims the lives of half of patients within the first year of diagnosis, and its incidence has rapidly increased since the 1970s despite extensive research into etiological factors. The changes in the microbiome within the distal esophagus in modern populations may help explain the growth in cases that other common EAC risk factors together cannot fully explain. The precursor to EAC is Barrett’s esophagus (BE), a metaplasia adapted to a reflux-mediated microenvironment that can be challenging to diagnose in patients who do not undergo endoscopic screening. Non-invasive procedures to detect microbial communities in saliva, oral swabs and brushings from the distal esophagus allow us to characterize taxonomic differences in bacterial population abundances within patients with BE versus controls, and may provide an alternative means of BE detection. Unique microbial communities have been identified across healthy esophagus, BE, and various stages of progression to EAC, but studies determining dynamic changes in these communities, including migration from proximal stomach and oral cavity niches, and their potential causal role in cancer formation are lacking. Helicobacter pylori
is negatively associated with EAC, and the absence of this species has been implicated in the evolution of chromosomal instability, a main driver of EAC, but joint analyses of microbiome and host genomes are needed. Acknowledging technical challenges, future studies on the prediction of microbial dynamics and evolution within BE and the progression to EAC will require larger esophageal microbiome datasets, improved bioinformatics pipelines, and specialized mathematical models for analysis.
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