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Link Explored Between Colon Cancer, Bacterium

TUESDAY, Oct. 18 (HealthDay News) -- Colorectal cancers contain high levels of a bacterium that may contribute to the cancer and could prove important in diagnosing, treating and preventing it, according to new research.

A team from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Broad Institute in Boston analyzed nine samples of normal colon tissue and nine samples of colorectal cancer tissue and found unusually high numbers of Fusobacterium cells in the tumor samples.

The study was published online Oct. 17 in the journal Genome Research, which also includes a paper by Canadian researchers who reported similar findings.

"Tumors and their surroundings contain complex mixtures of cancer cells, normal cells, and a variety of microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses," Dr. Matthew Meyerson, senior author of the Dana-Farber/Broad Institute study, said in a Dana-Farber news release.

"Over the past decade, there has been an increasing focus on the relationship between cancer cells and their 'microenvironment,' specifically on the cell-to-cell interactions that may promote cancer formation and growth," he noted.

There's no definitive link between Fusobacterium and colorectal cancer, but there are hints that the bacterium may play a role in the cancer, said Meyerson, co-director of the Center for Cancer Genome Discovery at Dana-Farber and a professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School.

Previous research has suggested an association between Fusobacterium and inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis, which can increase the risk of colon cancer.

"At this point, we don't know what the connection between Fusobacterium and colon cancer might be," Meyerson said. "It may be that the bacterium is essential for cancer growth, or that cancer simply provides a hospitable environment for the bacterium. Further research is needed to see what the link is."

If it's confirmed that Fusobacterium plays a role in the onset of colorectal cancer, it would be the first time that any microorganism has been found to be involved in this type of cancer.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. More than 141,000 people in the nation will be diagnosed with the disease this year, and it will kill more than 49,000 people, according to the American Cancer Society.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about colorectal cancer.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, news release, Oct. 17, 2011

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