For esophageal cancer (like many rare conditions), early diagnosis means a better prognosis. Unfortunately, until now there haven’t been many ways to determine whether or not an individual may be at risk for the disease.
“We need to develop a better understanding of what causes normal esophageal cells to become malignant so we can find at-risk individuals as early as possible.”
Fortunately, researchers may have just found a way to determine risk.
Researchers in Italy had the idea to investigate the microbiota in both healthy individuals and those with diagnosed esophageal cancer to determine if there was a difference between the makeup of microbes in the gut. If the individuals with cancer had a different microbiota makeup, it could be an early indicator of the disease.
Researchers analyzed 26 individuals- 6 who were newly diagnosed with esophageal cancer, 10 who had Barrett’s esophagus, and 10 controls. Barrett’s esophagus is a condition which is known to make individual’s more susceptible to esophageal cancer, so those individuals were an important component to this study. The results indicated that the composition of microbes was vastly different between groups. Those with the cancer had a much higher degree of microbiota diversity than the controls. Additionally, there was a large variation between which particular bacteria were more prevalent in individuals with Barrett’s esophagus and those in the control group versus those with the cancer.
What does it all mean?
If we’re able to examine an individual’s microbiota, we may be able to better assess their risk for developing esophageal cancer, take the appropriate preventative measures, and more closely monitor their condition. This could lead to an overall better prognosis and increased survival rate.
More studies are in the works to confirm these findings, but this initial research is bringing a new sense of hope to the esophageal cancer community.
You can read more about this study and its potential impact here.