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Changes in saliva bacteria may offer biomarker for pancreatic cancer

14 October 2011

New research has found significant variations in bacteria found in the saliva of patients with pancreatic cancer and pancreatitis.

A small-scale study at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has found significant variations in the types of bacteria found in the saliva of patients with pancreatic cancer and pancreatitis, compared with healthy controls. The findings may offer a new non-invasive biomarker to diagnose and track the development of these diseases.

Previous studies have highlighted periodontal disease, which is related to inflammation of the gums, as playing a possible role in the development of systemic diseases such as heart disease. The current study demonstrates a possible link between this type of inflammation and pancreatic cancer and pancreatitis.

The team, led by Dr James Farrell, of UCLA’s Digestive Disease Center, compared the bacteria in the mouths of 10 healthy people with those in 10 people with pancreatic cancer. They found significant differences in the microbe populations in each group.

Researchers found that 31 types of bacterial species were increased in the saliva of patients with pancreatic cancer, compared with healthy controls, and that 25 types of bacteria were reduced. For example, a type of bacteria known as Granulicatella adiacens, which is associated with systemic inflammation, was found to be elevated in pancreatic cancer patients. Also, two bacteria species that are usually abundant in a healthy mouth – Neisseria elongata and Streptococcus mitis – were significantly lowered in patients with pancreatic cancer.  

Farrell is validating his findings with a larger group of volunteers with the intention of creating a potential screening tool.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and published in the journal Gut (reference DOI: 10.1136/gutjnl-2011-300784.)

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