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Oral Bacteria Might Signal Early Pancreatic Cancer
Date:10/13/2011

By Alan Mozes
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Changes in the bacteria in a person's mouth might signal the onset of pancreatic cancer, preliminary research reveals.

The small study suggests that it eventually might be possible to screen for the deadly disease simply by analyzing a patient's saliva, as the presence or absence of certain oral bacteria seems to indicate a higher risk.

The observation, however, raises the question: Does pancreatic cancer prompt changes in an individual's oral bacterial landscape, or are such shifts actually driving the onset of disease?

"We don't yet know," cautioned study author Dr. James J. Farrell, an associate professor with the UCLA Center for Pancreatic Diseases at the University of California, Los Angeles. "This is a small study, and just the first step. But certainly this is the first indication of its kind that an analysis of oral flora can find differences that could point to a mechanism where pancreatic cancer might develop."

"At the same time," added Farrell, "what led us to explore this in the first place is the search for the holy grail: a test that would identify malignancy early on, because the problem with pancreatic cancer is that the vast majority of patients present at a very late stage. Only about 15 percent are diagnosed at a point where they're eligible to have surgery. So for most the only option is chemotherapy, which has a very poor response rate. So, there's a dire need for early detection. And this work could, down the road, lead to a noninvasive and widely applicable way to get just that."

Farrell and his colleague report their findings in the current online issue of the journal Gut.

Pancreatic cancer is typically very aggressive, with only about 5 percent of patients living five years beyond their diagnosis. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died last week of the disease.

The research team set out to
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