Stanford University scientists have established the first directlink between a common bacterium and stomach cancer.

Dr. Julia Parsonnet and her colleagues found Helicobacter pyloriin 33 of 37 of patients with intestinal-type cancer, according toan article today in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.These results suggest that H. pylori, already associated withgastritis and peptic ulcers, may be a risk factor for stomachcancer, a highly fatal disease that strikes one in 10,000 peoplein the United States each year.

Parsonnet cautioned that scientists still must prove that H.pylori leads to cancer. Nevertheless, Parsonnet told BioWorld,"If we wiped out the bacteria, we would probably wipe outstomach cancer." But that strategy would be impractical sincemore than 30 percent of the population harbors the bacteriaand only a small percentage develop cancer or ulcers.

Parsonnet said research should focus on identifying other co-factors that cause stomach cancer. High-risk patients could thenbe treated with currently available antibiotics and bismuthsalycilate (Pepto-Bismol) to kill the bacteria.

Scientists have already shown that H. pylori causesinflammation. Parsonnet and her colleagues speculate thatinflammation leads to cancer by at least four mechanisms: Itstimulates cell division, which makes DNA more susceptible todamage; it generates superoxide free radicals that mutate DNA;it makes the stomach more susceptible to other cancer-causingagents; and it may also impair the body's ability to repaircancer-causing mutations.

-- Carol Talkington Verser, Ph.D. Special to BioWorld

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