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New Risk Factors for Colon Cancer Studied

Research suggests common germ, inflammation marker may improve screening, diagnosis

MONDAY, April 19 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers report that high levels of a protein measured through blood tests could be a sign that patients are at higher risk of colon cancer.

And another new study finds that in blacks, a common germ boosts the risk of colorectal polyps -- abnormal tissue growths in the colon that often become cancerous.

Both studies are slated to be presented Monday at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

One study links high levels of circulating C-reactive protein to a higher risk of colon cancer. Protein levels rise when there's low-grade inflammation in the body.

"Elevated CRP levels may be considered as a risk marker, but not necessarily a cause, for the carcinogenic process of colon cancer," Dr. Gong Yang, research associate professor at Vanderbilt University, said in an AACR news release.

Yang and colleagues studied 338 cases of colorectal cancer among participants in the Shanghai Women's Health Study and compared them to 451 women without the disease.

Women whose protein levels were in the highest quarter had a 2.5-fold higher risk of colon cancer compared to those in the lowest quarter.

In the other study, researchers linked the bacterium Helicobacter pylori to a higher risk of colorectal polyps in blacks. That could make it more likely that they'll develop colon cancer.

"Not everyone gets sick from H. pylori infection, and there is a legitimate concern about overusing antibiotics to treat it," said Dr. Duane T. Smoot, chief of the gastrointestinal division at Howard University, in a statement. "However, the majority of the time these polyps will become cancerous if not removed, so we need to screen for the bacteria and treat it as a possible cancer prevention strategy."

The study authors, who examined the medical records of 1,262 black patients, found that the polyps were 50 percent more prevalent in those who were infected with H. pylori.

More information

Visit the U.S. National Cancer Institute for more on colon and rectal cancer.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: American Association for Cancer Research, press release, April 19, 2010

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