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E. coli strain in the gut may increase risk of bowel cancer, new study finds

Published on 28/02/20 at 09:31am

A type of E. coli infection may increase a person’s chance of developing bowel cancer, according to a new study published in Nature.

This type of E. Coli, present in the gut, is found in one out of five people and releases a toxin which experts say can damage the cells that line the bowel. This can potentially turn some cells cancerous over a period of time.

The study used miniature replicase of the human gut to test the effects of this condition on cells. They compared the damage caused with more than 5,000 bowel cancer samples and found identical patterns of damage in around 5% of samples.

Overall, the research suspect this may contribute to a minority of bowel cancer cases equivalent to one in 20 people. There is currently no routine test for this bacterium and it is not clear that the people who have it will be at heightened risk of cancer.

Nicola Smith, senior health information Manager at Cancer Research UK, which funded the research, said: “Although it might sound scary, there's still lots left to understand about our how our gut bacteria affect our health, what we could do about it, and how much impact it has on bowel cancer risk. In the future, knowing what role bacteria in our gut plays could change the way we detect and prevent bowel cancer.

“But we do know that around half of bowel cancer cases can be prevented by not smoking, keeping a healthy weight and eating a balanced diet - so there's plenty of changes that you can make right now that will reduce your risk.”

Over 42,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK with around 268,000 living with this disease.

Conor Kavanagh


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