WASHINGTON — A chronic stomach infection or high levels of inflammation may place a person at risk of colon cancer — or serve as an early warning sign of the disease — according to two studies presented April 19 at a meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research.
Past research has shown that chronic infections or persistent inflammation increase cancer risk in the lungs, liver and other tissues, said William Nelson, a medical oncologist at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, in Baltimore, who didn’t participate in either study. “It’s a growing trend,” he said. The new studies offer evidence “that colon cancer is the next one knocking on the door,” Nelson said.
In a study conducted at Howard University in Washington, D.C., gastroenterologist Duane Smoot and his colleagues analyzed the medical records of 1,262 blacks over age 40 who had undergone a colonoscopy to check for polyps in the colon and also had an endoscopy to assess stomach health. The endoscopies revealed that about one-third of the patients had a stomach infection of Helicobacter pylori, a common bacterium known to cause low-grade inflammation, ulcers and possibly even stomach cancer.
The researchers found that 43 percent of patients in the study who harbored H. pylori also had colorectal polyps, compared with 34 percent of those not infected with H. pylori. Polyps can be precancerous and are routinely removed during colonoscopy.
H. pylori infection increases the body’s manufacture of a hormone called gastrin, which can have a pro-growth effect on cells that, if unchecked, could lead to cancerous growth, Smoot said. He speculated that H. pylori infection may also trigger production of inflammation-causing cells that produce free radicals, unstable reactive oxygen species that can cause cancer-inducing mutations.
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