Colon cancer is an equal opportunity killer in America, cutting across all racial and ethnic lines. Out of the nearly 600,000 cancer deaths predicted in 2014, colon cancer is the third leading cause for men and women, according to the American Cancer Society.
Until recently, most of the deaths linked to colon cancer were confined to Americans over age 50. However, recent findings showed a decline in cases among older patients and an alarming rise among younger patients ages 20-49.
If a predictive model holds true over the next two decades, colon cancer cases will rise by 90 percent among patients ages 20-34 and 28 percent among patients ages 35-49.
There are many ways to prevent colon cancer, ranging from the simple — consuming fewer processed meats, getting more exercise and taking a multi-vitamin — to the complex and problematic — taking an aspirin or Celebrex.
A growing number of studies have shown gut health may be the key to avoiding colon cancer altogether, giving rise to the belief that taking a probiotic and fewer antibiotics may be one more way to treat this non-discriminating killer.
Microbial imbalances lead to cancer
A study conducted by researchers from the University of Michigan and Baylor College of Medicine may have settled the fact that microbial imbalances contribute to colon cancer once and for all.
Scientists came to this conclusion after exposing healthy mice to fecal matter from cancerous animals. Mice that were exposed to fecal matter from cancerous animals doubled the likelihood they would develop tumors, compared to similar matter from disease-free animals.
Interventions via antibiotics reduced the number and size of tumors in mice significantly, leading scientists to suggest that taking a probiotic may prevent changes in the gut microbiome that trigger the development of colon cancer.
More bad bugs than good bugs
The delicate balance between the good and bad gut bacteria was clearly implicated as a cause for colon cancer in a recent Journal of the National Cancer Institute study.
After comparing the DNA composition of intestinal microbes in stool samples of 94 healthy patients to 47 colon cancer patients, scientists discovered cancer patients had more fusobacteria, organisms found in the mouth and gastrointestional tract that are associated with gut inflammation.
Colon cancer patients were also more likely to be depleted of clostridia, beneficial bacteria that helps your gut digest carbohydrates and dietary fiber better.
Bad bacteria vs. your genes
New research featured in the Journal of Experimental Medicine found the incidence of colon cancer may be dictated by more than genetics.
Although colon cancer can occur when healthy cells undergo genetic alterations, specific kinds of this disease may also happen in specific locations in the intestine, suggesting non-genetic causes.
Researchers came to this conclusion when they stopped the development of polyps in mice, altering their gut bacteria by giving them antibiotics. As we know, however, antibiotics may create as many health problems as they solve.
Although more studies will be needed to identify which bacteria triggered colon cancer, scientists suspect non-genetic factors may contribute too. “In addition to genetic changes, various lifestyle-related factors, such as obesity and diet, have been linked to colorectal cancer,” said lead researcher Dr. Sergio Lira.
“Some of these lifestyle factors appear to affect the types of bacteria present in the gut. Ultimately, understanding the interplay between genetic mutations, gut microbes and inflammation may lead to novel diagnostics and therapies for intestinal cancer.”
Unfortunately, the health complications linked with antibiotics — namely obesity — if you take them too often can create their own set of undesirable problems.
The good news: Improving your gut health is as easy as following a better diet and taking a daily probiotic made from multiple strains of beneficial bacteria like EndoMune Advanced Probiotic.