Pancreatic cancer breakthrough: Microorganisms in stool samples could offer new way to detect pancreatic cancer early

8th March 2022

Worldwide Cancer Research scientists have discovered a potential new way to detect and diagnose pancreatic cancer early by analysing microorganisms such as bacteria in a patients stool sample. This fast and non-invasive way of diagnosing pancreatic cancer could be a game changer for preventing people dying from this lethal type of cancer.

Dr Nuria Malats who led the research

Pancreatic cancer is a relatively rare cancer type, but survival rates remain stubbornly low. In the UK, it’s estimated that only 1 in 4 people will survive for one year or more after their diagnosis. One of the key reasons for this is that pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed late because the symptoms are hard to spot and may not appear until later in the progression of the disease.

This new research led by Dr Núria Malats from the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO) and Dr Peer Bork from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, found a molecular signature of 27 microorganisms in stool samples that could predict whether patients are at high risk of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, the most common pancreatic cancer, and even diagnose patients with earlier stages of the disease.

A patent has already been applied for by the researchers to develop a pancreatic cancer diagnostic kit that detects these microbial genomes in stool samples in a rapid, non-invasive, and affordable way.


Dr Helen Rippon, Chief Executive, Worldwide Cancer Research
This new breakthrough builds on the growing evidence that the microbiome – the collection of microorganisms that live side by side with the cells inside our body – is linked to the development of cancer. What’s amazing about this discovery is that the microbiome of stool samples from patients could be used to help diagnose pancreatic cancer early. Early detection and diagnosis are just as important an approach to starting new cancer cures as developing treatments.

Currently, screening programmes are targeted to families with a history of pancreatic cancer, which represent only 10% of the burden of the disease. The inclusion in these screening programmes of a stool analysis to identify the identified microbial signature could help to detect the rest of the population at risk, according to the researchers.

Pancreatic cancer is one of those cancers that we have seen very little improvement in survival over the last few decades. It’s often diagnosed late when it has already spread to other parts of the body and treatment options for people are extremely limited. This research provides hope that an effective, non-invasive way to diagnose pancreatic cancer early is on the horizon

The full research article can be read for free at the journals website.

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Further reading

Cancer explained Cartoon of an anatomical pancreas on a pink background
Cancer explained

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