Digestive Tract Bacteria Increases Risk Of Pancreatic Cancer, Finds New Study

Pancreatic cancer is known to be one of the most aggressive forms of cancer and has very vague symptoms. This form of cancer is usually detected in its last stages and by that time, it becomes too late for any kind of treatment as it would have spread all over the body. At present, pancreatic cancer is known to be the third-most common cause of cancer-related deaths in the EU.

Many people develop cystic lesions like intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasms or IPMNs in the pancreas. As these lesions are known to be a precursor to pancreatic cancer, many patients go in for regular, lifelong check-ups and in few cases, they may need surgery as well.

The connection between IPMNs and pancreatic cancer is not yet completely known but studies from Karolinska Institutet and other places show that the presence of oral bacteria in the pancreas may give an idea about the severity of the IPMN lesion.

The researchers made use of modern cultivation methods and a novel proteomic technique to capture living pancreatic bacteria to study them in the lab. Researchers looked at the cystic fluids of 29 patients who had surgery for cystic pancreatic tumors between 2018 and 2019.

The study revealed an over-representation of Gammaproteobacteria and another class of bacterium called Bacilli, which mostly are found in the digestive tract and have earlier been known to promote resistance to cancer drugs by affecting the impact of gemcitabine, a cytostatic drug used in pancreatic cancer treatment. The study showed that these bacteria were present in IPMNs and was culturable in 24 percent of the cases.

On further study in the laboratory, the researchers found that many of these bacteria could infect and even hide within the pancreatic cells, with harmful consequences.

Commenting on the findings, Margaret Sällberg Chen, professor at the Department of Dental Medicine at Karolinska Institutet, said, "Some bacteria could cause double-stranded DNA breakage which is considered the first step of cellular lesion and cancer. We also found that antibiotics could prevent the damage to the DNA. Our findings not only confirm that bacteria play an important part in the development of cancer, they also illuminate new ways to attack the process."

The question of how digestive tract bacteria enter the pancreas to then hide in its cells remains to be answered. Researchers said, "Under normal circumstances, the duct from the intestines to the pancreas is closed, but in the presence of inflammation or injury, perhaps the bacteria may slip through. The bacteria have likely migrated from the oral cavity and gastrointestinal tract to the pancreas through this duct. Some bacteria can also hide in human cells, such as white blood cells, and travel to the pancreas by the help of those cells."

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