As you know, some of the little invaders do good work. They produce chemicals that help us get energy and nutrients from food; they assist in immune-system upkeep; it seems they even contributed around 40 of our human genes.
Unfortunately, some of them are less gracious guests: They cause digestive disorders, skin diseases and obesity.
A study announced today by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine suggests a change in balance between the good and bad bacteria in our gut could be a “harbinger” of colon cancer:
“We think something happens to tip the balance away from the beneficial bacteria and in favor of microbes that make toxic metabolites and are detrimental to our health,” said senior study author Temitope Keku, PhD, research associate professor of medicine at UNC.
Keku and her colleagues[determined] the different bacteria groups contained within biopsies from 45 patients undergoing colonoscopies. They uncovered a higher bacterial diversity and richness in individuals found to have adenomas than in those without these colorectal cancer precursors. In particular, a group called Proteobacteria was in higher abundance in cases than in controls, which was interesting considering that is the category where E. coli and some other common pathogens reside.
It is still not clear whether alterations in bacterial composition cause adenomas, or if adenomas cause this altered balance.
If the bacterial differences found in the mucosa lining of the colon also show up in fecal matter, the dreaded colonoscopy might cede some ground to new, less invasive methods of cancer screening.