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Gastric cancer link to little-known bacteria
- Discovery denotes shift in ulcer treatment

What causes gastric cancer'

For decades, doctors believed that hereditary and dietary factors, apart from smoking, were largely responsible for it, until a three-member research team of the surgical department of Calcutta National Medical College and Hospital (CNMCH) recently shed new light on the malaise.

For two years, the team studied over 100 suspected gastric cancer patients and carried out a series of investigative tests, including tissue biopsy and endoscopy, which revealed the presence of a bacteria, ‘Helicobacter pylori’, in a majority of them, indicating that the bacteria was responsible for gastric cancer.

The findings not only indicate what in most cases causes gastric cancer, but also emphasises the need for a change in the line of treatment for ulcers, which later lead to gastric cancer, feel experts.

“We analysed the normal body tissue and also the cancerous tissue and found traces of the bacteria in the cancerous portion, indicating that the bacteria had a carcinogenic effect on the patients,” said Gautam Das, the doctor heading the three-member research team, along with Prithviraj Ghoshal and Partha Mukherjee.

To eliminate doubts, the male -female ratio of the patients tested was kept equal and the cases hailed from the city and surrounding districts. The CNMCH authorities, in turn, suggested that the findings be placed at a public forum.

The surgery department forwarded the findings as a presentation at the recently-concluded conference hosted by the Association of Surgeons of India (ASI). An ASI team went through the report and also investigated the case in detail, before accepting the project to be presented as a major finding at the conference.

The department plans to suggest to the government that a group of drugs, including antibiotics like Amoxycilin and Metronedazole, and Proton Pump Inhibitors (to reduce acid secretion) may go a long way in preventing gastric cancer with H. Pylori indications.

“I clearly remember the findings made by the CNMCH team. The study is significant in the sense that it helps doctors standardise the line of treatment of people with acute gastric problems, which gives way to cancer,” said senior professor B.P. Chakraborty, who was part of the probe team and also the organising secretary of the ASI conference. “Since prevention of disease is the key, gastric cancer can also be prevented with a planned effort,” added Das.

Later, speaking from Chandigarh, ASI conference president S.M. Bose, said he was aware of the presentation and felt that “studies such as these should be encouraged to help medical practitioners change their line of treatment”.

Buoyed by its success, the team has now decided to carry out further studies into the “largely unknown origin of the bacteria, H. pylori, which has been wreaking havoc in the lives of people. There are theories about the bacteria’s existence, including a genetic predisposition, but nothing is still clear. Chemical analysis and study will reveal the truth,” Das added.

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