Today, there are many ways to discover your ancestry through your DNA. You can learn about your family history, discover unknown facts about family members, and explore the long-lost branches of your family tree. If you could determine which cells and bacteria in your body lead to disease, would you explore your health risks with as much curiosity as your ancestry? A new study from the Duke Cancer Institute discovered a bacteria that, if present, can lead to colon cancer. The most interesting fact is the relationship between this bacteria and race.

Helicobacter Pylori

The bacteria Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) enters the stomach and can cause an infection. While this bacteria typically infects during childhood, in most cases, symptoms are never present. In fact, nearly half of the people in the world are thought to have the bacteria without even knowing it. If symptoms do occur you may have a burning sensation in your abdomen, nausea, loss of appetite, unintended weight loss, bloating, and frequent burping. H. pylori infection often results in peptic ulcers.

H. Pylori and Cancer

Researchers from the Duke Cancer Institute, analyzed more than 4,000 colorectal cancer cases from the United States. While the research does not prove that colorectal cancer is caused by H. pylori, the data showed this bacteria was present in a staggering number of patients. The most enlightening fact from this study reveals that African Americans and Hispanics are more likely to carry the bacteria than other races. In fact, white and Asian American patients had below average and average H. pylori infection rates, respectively. 71% of the African American colon cancer patients had the H. pylori bacteria and 65% of the non-cancer patients carried the bacteria. Hispanics also showed high percentages of H. pylori infection. 

The bacteria was present in 74% of cancer patients and 77% of non-cancer patients. The research goes even deeper to show that the presence of specific antibodies to the H. pylori proteins increased the risk of colorectal cancer. When high levels of the antibodies to the protein VacA were evident in African American and Asian Americans, they faced a greater risk of colon cancer. More research is required to determine if the presence of bacteria is linked to genetics.

Preventing Colon Cancer

Because colon cancer symptoms are so difficult to detect, especially in its early stages, it is imperative that you schedule a colonoscopy at the age of 45 or 50. Colonoscopies can diagnose—and remove—cancer cells before they spread. A colonoscopy can also find polyps, non-cancerous masses in the intestine that will lead to cancer if left alone over time. If you have a family history of colon cancer, you will need to inform your gastroenterologist and consider a screening earlier than the recommended age. With this new information about the risk for African Americans, Asian Americans, and Hispanics, talk to your doctor about getting tested for H. pylori. 

If you showed symptoms and were diagnosed with H. pylori infection in your childhood, talk to your doctor today. Colon cancer can be prevented if proper precautions are taken. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Talk to a GI doctor you can trust about your risk for colorectal cancer. Make an appointment at GI Associates today.

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