A type of bacterium known to cause dental decay and skin ulcers may also be linked to bowel cancer, scientists suspect.
Two independent research
teams have now found the bug Fusobacterium in colon tumours.
It's not yet
clear if the pathogen might cause cancerous changes or whether it is an
incidental finding, they told Genome Research journal.
If it is to
blame, antibiotics might be able to treat it and prevent cancer.
cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK after after breast and
Although the exact cause of bowel cancer is unknown, there are
certain factors that increase risk, such as a strong family history of the
disease and older age.
It may be that Fusobacterium infection can be
added to that list, according to the experts, but they say much more work is
needed to establish this.
The infection has already been linked with a
gut condition called ulcerative colitis which is itself a risk factor for bowel
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Early warning signs and
A persistent change in normal bowel habit, such as going to the
toilet more often and diarrhoea, especially if you are also bleeding from your
Bleeding from the back passage without any reason, particularly
over the age of 50
A lump in your tummy or a lump in your back passage felt
by your doctor
Unexplained iron deficiency in men or in women after the
Unexplained extreme tiredness
And other cancers are known to
be linked with certain bacteria and viruses - for example, HPV and cervical
The first study, led by Dr Robert Holt from Simon Fraser
University in Canada, identified Fusobacterium's hallmark in RNA present in
bowel cancer tumours. RNA is genetic material similar to DNA which is involved
in transmitting and translating the genetic code.
The other team, led by
Dr Matthew Meyerson from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, US, found
microbial sequences of DNA indicative of Fusobacterium.
looked at more than 100 samples of healthy and cancerous bowel
Sarah Williams, of Cancer Research UK, said the research gave a
clue about the environment in which bowel cancer grows, but added: "It's early
days and we look forward to the results of more specific, in-depth studies.
"In the meantime, people can reduce their risk of bowel cancer by not
smoking, cutting down on alcohol, keeping a healthy weight, being active,
reducing the amount of red and processed meat in their diet and eating plenty of