Gut bacteria linked to increased bowel cancer risk

Louise Elliott on a new kind of bacteria that has been linkedto increased incidence of bowel cancer.

Louise Elliott
25th November 2019
A type of Bacteroidales bacteria found in the gut has very recently been linked to potentially causing a 2-15% increased risk of bowel cancer.

Bacteroidales is the name to describe a range of different bacterial families, four of which are found in mammals. Two subsets of these families commonly make up part of the microbiota in the human gut. At the National Cancer Research Institute Cancer Conference, a research group led by Kaitlin Wade from the University of Bristol, presented a new piece of research that shows a type of Bacteroidales can increase the risk of bowel cancer: supported through genome wide association studies. This is when the genes from large numbers of the population (in this case taken from various different previous population studies) are compared to see if there are any common mutations or variations in the genome of people with bowel cancer.

There has long been links between microbiota in the gut having the ability to affect human health including some cancers and even mental health. However, this study is still in the early stages having not yet been published or peer reviewed. Although it shows strong links between the presence of these families of bacteria and bowel cancer, through causal-relationship studies, if this is the direct cause of increased risk of cancer is another complex question that is yet to be addressed. Significantly more research has to take place before this claim can be supported or refuted by scientists. For example, they need to identify which of the Bacteroidales is causing this potential increased risk of bowel cancer and how it is causing this. If this research is found to be correct and future research provides enough evidence to lead to therapeutic development, then this will have to proceed with caution. This is because of the intricate balance of microbiota in the gut playing a key role in other aspects of our health.

This research is an exciting advance for scientists working in cancer research and provides a brilliant foundation for future research into the mechanisms of bowel cancer risk factors.

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