Oh Spit! Oral Bacteria Linked to Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer patients have different levels of oral bacteria

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Pancreatic cancer typically has no early warning signs or symptoms. That's why it's virtually impossible to catch it early in the disease process.  Recent research may have found a way to fix this dilemma.

Certain types of bacteria found in the mouth have been linked to pancreatic cancer. This finding may mean that controlling these bacteria could limit the progress of one of the most difficult cancers.

"Bacteria in the mouth may one day indicate pancreatic cancer."

Pancreatic cancer develops and grows quickly, so by the time it is identified, the outlook usually isn't good. Only about five percent of patients are alive five years after diagnosis.

A team of researchers, led by James Farrell, MD, of the University of California - Los Angeles (UCLA) Medical Center, analyzed and compared bacteria found in the spit of 10 patients with early pancreatic cancer that  had not yet spread, and 10 healthy people.

There were significant differences in the make-up and amount of bacteria found in each group. Healthy participants had 31 more bacterial species, while cancer patients had 25 fewer species.

To verify these findings, researchers checked spit samples from 28 additional pancreatic cancer patients and healthy individuals. Tissue samples were also checked from 28 patients with chronic pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) which increases pancreatic cancer risks.

The team found six suspicious bacterial species. Neisseria elongata and Streptococcus mitis were seen less often in cancer patients than in healthy participants. Meanwhile, Granulicatella adjacens was present in significantly higher levels in cancer patients.

This pattern was seen in 80 percent of the cancer patients. Similar differences were also present in people with chronic pancreatitis.

Dr. Farrell, who is director of the UCLA Medical Center Endoscopic Ultrasound Division of Digestive Diseases, told dailyRx this study makes "a link between oral bacteria and the possible development of pancreatic cancer. It provides an additional piece of evidence supporting this link. However it remains unclear whether the bacteria are directly causing the development of cancer (most likely) or are the result of it."

When asked if a possible screening tool is possible, Dr. Farrell said, "This is easy to develop, but the true operating characteristics of screening for oral bacteria as a diagnostic tool needs to be further studied."

This study was published in Gut, a specialist title of the British Medical Journal Group.

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Review Date: 
October 12, 2011
Last Updated:
September 27, 2012