Scientists have found a gene linked to the development of oesophageal cancer
A single gene may be a key player in the development of oesophageal cancer, which affects the gullet, research has shown.
The gene could provide a new target for treating the disease, one of the most deadly cancers.
Scientists studied three families with a rare inherited form of oesophageal cancer. They found that all carried a faulty version of a gene called RHBDF2.
Tests showed that the gene influenced how cells that line the oesophagus, as well as those in the skin, respond to injury. When the gene malfunctions, cells divide and grow uncontrollably, leading to cancer.
Studies suggest the gene could also play a role in the more common, non-inherited form of the disease.
The findings are published in the American Journal of Human genetics.
Professor David Kelsell, from Queen Mary, University of London, said: "In studying this relatively rare condition, we have made an important discovery about a cancer that is all too common. Finding a genetic cause for this aggressive cancer, and understanding what that gene is doing, is an enormous step forward."
Oesophageal cancer affects more than 8,000 people each year in the UK and rates are rising.
Because the disease is often identified late the chances of survival are poor. Only around 8% of people diagnosed with the disease are still alive five years later.
Morse star John Thaw died from oesophageal cancer in 2002, a year after he was diagnosed.