Histological classification of adenocarcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma for esophageal cancer or using the Lauren classification for intestinal and diffuse type gastric cancer has limited clinical utility in the management of advanced disease. Germline mutations in E-cadherin (CDH1) or mismatch repair genes (Lynch syndrome) were identified many years ago but given their rarity, the identification of these molecular alterations does not substantially impact treatment in the advanced setting. Recent molecular profiling studies of upper GI tumors have added to our knowledge of the underlying biology but have not led to an alternative classification system which can guide clinician's therapeutic decisions. Recently the Cancer Genome Atlas Research Network has proposed four subtypes of gastric cancer dividing tumors into those positive for Epstein-Barr virus, microsatellite unstable tumors, genomically stable tumors, and tumors with chromosomal instability. Unfortunately to date, many phase III clinical trials involving molecularly targeted agents have failed to meet their survival endpoints due to their use in unselected populations. Future clinical trials should utilize molecular profiling of individual tumors in order to determine the optimal use of targeted therapies in preselected patients.
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