Scientists might be able to detect pancreatic cancer by observing microorganisms in stool samples, research suggests.
The study, which was part-funded by Worldwide Cancer Research, found 27 microbial species in stool samples could highlight people at high risk of the most common form of pancreatic cancer.
The 27 microbes could be used to distinguish between people without cancer and those with both the advanced and early stages of the disease.
The study found some microorganisms were abundant in the stool samples of cancer patients, while others were depleted.
The microbiome – a collection of fungi, bacteria and viruses inside the human body – is known to interact with the immune system.
Pancreatic cancer can be difficult to treat and is deadly, with one in four surviving one year or more after diagnosis.
Developing a screening test
The study, published in the journal Gut, involved 136 people. Of those, 57 had pancreatic cancer (25 early stage and 32 advanced), 50 without cancer acted as controls, and 29 patients had chronic pancreatitis.
Experts from the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO) and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) said it was “feasible” for a screening test to be developed using stool samples that could help detect pancreatic cancer.
A patent has been applied for to develop a pancreatic diagnostic kit that would rapidly detect the microorganisms.
‘An effective, non-invasive diagnosis’
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.
“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.”