The scientists analyzed fecal matter from some 90 study participants in order to look for correlations between certain microbes and the presence of cancer. After comparing the gut bacteria of 30 healthy patients, 30 patients with precancerous polyps, and 30 patients diagnosed with colon cancer, researchers confirmed each group had distinct microbiome compositions.
Researchers claim analyzing gut bacteria is more effective that blood-fecal tests. When gut microbiome analysis was considered alongside risk factors like age, race and body mass index, prediction rates of the disease's presence improved fivefold.
"If our results are confirmed in larger groups of people, adding gut microbiome analysis to other fecal tests may provide an improved, noninvasive way to screen for colorectal cancer," explained lead author Patrick Schloss, associate professor in Michigan's department of microbiology and immunology.
Schloss says the new technique isn't meant to exist on its own but in conjunction with other tests and screening procedures -- in order to offer a more comprehensive and accurate picture of a patient's risk for colon cancer.
"Our data show that gut microbiome analysis has the potential to be a new tool to noninvasively screen for colorectal cancer," Schloss said. "We don't think that this would ever replace other colorectal cancer screening approaches, rather we see it as complementary."
The study was published this week in the journal of Cancer Prevention Research.