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Testing your gut bacteria: A new way to screen for colon cancer

Despite our growing awareness of colon cancer, a recent report about the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in America has predicted a dramatic jump in this disease over the next 15 years. Unfortunately, this worrisome rise is among millennials and Gen Xers, not the typical age groups linked to colon cancer (those over age 50).

Currently, colon cancer screening methods (usually for patients over age 50) include uncomfortable tests like a colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy and double-contrast barium enema.

A pair of recent studies may have found new, non-invasive methods to effectively screen for colon cancer via a patient’s gut bacteria, which can complement existing tests.

Studying the human microbiome for clues to colon cancer

European researchers looking for signs of early stage tumors compared stool samples taken from 42 patients with precancerous intestinal polyps, 53 patients with advanced rectal or colon cancer and 61 healthy patients prior to the typical colon cleanse before a colonoscopy, according to the study published in Molecular Systems Biology.

Many factors were taken into consideration, from examining DNA sequencing and cataloging the genetic makeup of gut bacteria to collecting information about key factors that influence colon cancer (ethnicity, body mass index and age).

Scientists discovered that a subspecies of Fusobacterium nucleatum was present in colon cancer patients, and validated later in an independent cohort study of 335 patients from various countries. (This newer study mirrored the findings of a 2013 report that identified Fusobacterium nucleatum as a factor in increasing the likelihood of tumors.)

Testing gut bacteria using genetic analysis in tandem with existing procedures like the fecal occult blood test (FOBT) increased the accuracy of testing by 45 percent compared to the blood test alone.

Moreover, using genetic testing may be more effective in detecting early stages of colon cancer compared to the FOBT, said study co-author Dr. Julian Tap to Gut Microbiota Worldwatch.

Could gut microbiome testing be more accurate?

Examining the gut microbiome for signs of colon cancer yielded similar results in another study published in Cancer Prevention Research that compared stool samples from 30 healthy patients to equal numbers of patients with precancerous polyps and invasive colon cancer.

After identifying gut bacteria signatures for each group and including age and racial information in the mix, scientists were able to improve their ability to predict the presence of precancerous polyps by more than 400 percent. Adding body mass index with the rest of those factors increased the ability to predict invasive colon cancer by more than a factor of 5.

Also, analyzing gut microbiomes was more accurate than using the FOBT in determining which patients had precancerous polyps compared to invasive colon cancer.

“We found that the composition of the gut microbiome allowed us to identify who in our study had precancerous adenomatous polyps and who had invasive colorectal cancer,” said study co-author Dr. Patrick Schloss, associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in a press release.

“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,” Schloss continued.

These studies provide another opportunity to remind you that microbial imbalances in your gut—greater amounts of bad bacteria versus beneficial bacteria—are a serious indicator of colon cancer.

However, taking a multi-species probiotic like EndoMune Advanced Probiotic offers many benefits, including increasing the diversity of beneficial gut bacteria that can protect your health from colon cancer.

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