Analysis of the gut microbiome can better distinguish healthy individuals from those with precancerous adenomatous polyps and those with invasive colorectal cancer, compared to use of traditional clinical risk factors and fecal occult blood testing, according to a study published online in Cancer Prevention Research.

Joseph P. Zackular, Ph.D., from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and colleagues characterized the gut microbiome from stool samples in patients from three clinical groups representing the stages of colorectal cancer development: healthy, adenoma, and carcinoma.

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The researchers found that gut microbiome reveals both an enrichment and depletion of several bacterial populations associated with adenomas and carcinomas. Data from the gut microbiome combined with known clinical risk factors of colorectal cancer (i.e., body mass index, age, and race) significantly improved the ability to differentiate between healthy, adenoma, and carcinoma clinical groups beyond risk factors alone.

Using gut microbiome data as a screening tool improved the pretest to posttest probability of adenoma more than 50-fold.

“The results of our study demonstrate the feasibility of using the composition of the gut microbiome to detect the presence of precancerous and cancerous lesions,” the authors write.

  1. Zackular, Joseph P., PhD, et al. “The Human Gut Microbiome as a Screening Tool for Colorectal Cancer.” Cancer Prevention Research. doi:10.1158/1940-6207.CAPR-14-0129. August 7, 2014.