New research published in the journal Gastroenterology offers insight on gastric cancer and the presence of the common bacteria known as H. pylori (Helicobacter pylori). Although previous studies have investigated the impacts that H. pylori have on the gut, researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania now confirm that eliminating H. pylori from the gastrointestinal tract can cut the risk of gastric cancer by 75% in the US.
The study was conducted by lead author Shria Kumar, MD, and fellow researchers. Kumar commented, "The problem was that all research out of the U.S. used to study gastric cancer and determine American's risk of developing it did not take into account H. pylori infection, and studies worldwide have shown this infection is actually the leading risk factor for this type of cancer.”
The research team analyzed data from 400,000 patients to conclude that the link between the incidence of gastric cancer and H. pylori is stronger in certain populations – for instance, African American, Asian, Hispanic and Latinx, American Indian and Inuit American populations. They also saw an increased risk of H. pylori and consequential gastric cancer in men, smokers, and older individuals. This finding suggests that certain populations would benefit from increased monitoring for the bacteria.
"Discovering that these particular racial and ethnic groups are more likely to develop cancer after detection of this bacteria could influence clinicians' future screening practices and hopefully lead to early detection and management of gastric cancer," explained Kumar.
Detecting and treating H. pylori is tedious and involves an endoscopic procedure, breath test, or stool sample. Many times, treatment procedures are not successful in fully eliminating the bacteria from the gastrointestinal tract, making follow-up care crucial. Yet, while an estimated 50% of the world’s population “suffers” from H. pylori, the bacteria are tricky because many may not suffer from symptoms at all, and thus likely unaware of its presence.
"According to estimates, there will be 27,000 new cases of gastric cancer in the U.S. this year, which is small compared to the prevalence of colorectal cancer -- for which there are an estimated 101,000 new cases for 2019," said Kumar. "It's not feasible or necessary to screen everyone for H. pylori or gastric cancer, but our study suggests that certain people may have high enough compounding risk to warrant regular invasive screenings and anyone treated for an H. pylori infection should be assessed to ensure eradication of the bacteria." The authors are quick to assure that even for those in the US that have contracted H. pylori, most do not develop gastric cancer.