Deadly pancreatic cancer can be spotted in your faeces in major ‘breakthrough’

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Pancreatic cancer could be diagnosed by a new non-invasive and rapid test, according to a new study.

Scientists could identify people at high risk of the most common form of pancreatic cancer using the test.

Pancreatic cancer is deadly and can be very difficult to treat – only one in four people survive one year or more after diagnosis.

The stool sample test finds 27 microbes, mostly bacteria, and could tell apart people without pancreatic cancer and those with the disease, both in early and advanced stages.

A microbiome is a collection of fungi, bacteria and viruses living inside our bodies that are known to interact with the immune system.

Part-funded by Worldwide Cancer research, the study was published in the medical journal titled Gut.

It involved 136 people, including 57 with pancreatic cancer (25 early stage and 32 advanced), 50 without cancer acting as controls, and 29 patients with chronic pancreatitis, where the pancreas has become permanently damaged by inflammation.

Experts from the Spanish National Cancer Research Center (CNIO) and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) concluded it is “feasible” for a screening program to be developed using stool samples that may help pick up pancreatic cancer.

A patent has been applied for the development of a pancreatic cancer diagnostic kit that detects the microorganisms in stool samples in a rapid way.

Dr Helen Rippon, chief executive of Worldwide Cancer Research, said: “This new breakthrough builds on the growing evidence that the microbiome – the collection of microorganisms that live side by side with the cells inside our body – is linked to the development of cancer.

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Pancreatic cancer cells.
Pancreatic cancer is difficult to diagnose and treat

“What’s amazing about this discovery is that the microbiome of stool samples from patients could be used to help diagnose pancreatic cancer early.

“Early detection and diagnosis are just as important an approach to starting new cancer cures as developing treatments.

“This research provides hope that an effective, non-invasive way to diagnose pancreatic cancer early is on the horizon.”

Dr Chris MacDonald, head of research at Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: “New, more accurate biomarkers for the detection of pancreatic cancer are urgently needed and it’s vital that we leave no stone unturned.

“We know the microbiome – the collection of fungi, bacteria and viruses that live inside our bodies or on our skin – and its interaction with our immune system is integral to our health.

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“But we’re only now scratching the surface in understanding how this symbiotic relationship works in both health and disease, which is why innovative early-stage research like this is so important.

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“There’s tremendous potential in this area and, as our knowledge of the microbiome grows, we would want to see further research explore whether a new microbiome biomarker can detect pancreatic cancer in people with vague symptoms, not just in patients with known disease.

“Back pain, indigestion, weight loss, changes to poo are all common symptoms in pancreatic cancer and of much less serious health conditions, and this is a key factor in why 80% of people with pancreatic cancer are currently diagnosed at an advanced stage.

“We desperately need an early detection tool capable of helping GPs diagnose thousands more people at early symptomatic stage in time for lifesaving treatment.”

The study was accurate at detecting the most common form of pancreatic cancer – pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma.

Fewer than one in 20 people with this type survive five or more years.

The study found that some microorganisms were abundant in the stool samples of the cancer patients, while others were depleted.

This “microbial profile” consistently identified patients with the disease, irrespective of how far it had progressed.

This finding was replicated in a separate group of 76 German people, 44 of whom had pancreatic ductal cancer and 32 of whom did not, and using other data.



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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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