Bacteria in the mouth may lead to diagnostic test for pancreatic cancer

New research has shown that patients with pancreatic cancer have a different and distinct profile of specific bacteria in their saliva compared to healthy individuals and even patients with other cancers or pancreatic diseases. These findings could form the basis for a test that will be able to diagnose the disease in its early stages.

"Our studies suggest that ratios of particular types of bacteria found in saliva may be indicative of pancreatic cancer," says Pedro Torres of San Diego State University who presented the research.

In the study, Torres and his colleagues compared the diversity of saliva bacteria across 131 patients, 63 female and 68 male, being treated at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) Moores Cancer Centre. Of these patients, 14 had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, 13 with pancreatic disease, 22 with other forms of cancer and 10 were disease free. Results showed that patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer had higher levels of two particular oral bacteria, Leptotrichia and Campylobacter, when compared to any other healthy or diseased participant, including non-cancerous pancreatic disease. Those individuals with pancreatic cancer also had lower levels of Streptococcus, Treponema and Veillonella.

"Our results suggest the presence of a consistently distinct microbial profile for pancreatic cancer," says Torres. "We may be able to detect pancreatic cancer at its early stages by taking individuals' saliva and looking at the ratios of these bacteria."

The outcome for pancreatic cancer patients is poor with only 1% of patients diagnosed surviving for 10 years. The primary reason for this is that it is difficult to detect and diagnose in the early stages when treatment is most likely to be successful.

The findings of the study were presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology

A group of organisms too small to be seen with the naked eye, which are usually made up of just a single cell. Full medical glossary
a group of bacteria that are among the most common causes of gastrointestinal disorders. Full medical glossary
Abnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. Full medical glossary
Malignant, a tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. Full medical glossary
Relating to the pancreas. Full medical glossary
A tube placed inside a tubular structure in the body, to keep it patent, that is, open. Full medical glossary