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Gut Bacteria Composition can Predict Colon Cancer Risk

Update Date: Aug 08, 2014 01:48 PM EDT

According to a new study, examining the content of people's gut bacteria, also known as their gut microbiome, can help predict people's risk of colon cancer.

In this study, the research team collected stool samples from 90 people and examined the composition of the gut microbiome. 30 of them were considered healthy, another 30 had precancerous intestinal polyps and the remaining 30 had advanced colon or rectal cancer. The researchers found that all three groups had different gut bacteria.

"If our results are confirmed in larger groups of people, adding gut microbiome analysis to other fecal tests may provide an improved, noninvasive way to screen for colorectal cancer," study author Patrick Schloss, associate professor in the department of microbiology and immunology at the University of Michigan, said in a journal news release reported by Philly.

The researchers estimated that using gut bacteria analysis in combination with factors, such as age and race can help improve the prediction of precancerous polyps by 4.5 times. When the team used gut bacteria analysis, age, race and body mass index (BMI), colon cancer risk prediction improved by five times. The team added that the gut bacteria analysis was more effective than the fecal occult blood testing, which is another stool sample test, in differentiating precancerous polyps from invasive cancer.

"For those patients who are not willing to undergo colonoscopy and are currently not undergoing other stool-based screening techniques, I have my doubts that the type of testing performed here would see great use," Patrick Boland, MD, of Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y. told MedPage Today in an e-mail. Roland was not a part of the study, "In any case, it's exciting to see so many potential new options emerging for colorectal cancer screening."

Schloss added, "Our data show that gut microbiome analysis has the potential to be a new tool to noninvasively screen for colorectal cancer. We don't think that this would ever replace other colorectal cancer screening approaches, rather we see it as complementary."

The study, "The Human Gut Microbiome as a Screening Tool for Colorectal Cancer," was published in the journal, Cancer Prevention Research.

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