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SCIENCE REPORT - October 3, 2001: Bacteria and Stomach Cancer - 2001-10-02

This is the VOA Special English Science Report.

Researchers say the bacterium that causes stomach wounds, or ulcers, is also the leading cause of stomach cancer. The bacterium is called Helicobacter pylori. The researchers say doctors may be able to kill the bacteria with antibiotic drugs to help prevent stomach cancer.

A new study of the bacteria was published last month in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study was led by Naomi Uemura of Kure Kyosai Hospital in Japan. The Japanese researchers examined more than one-thousand-five-hundred patients with ulcers or intestinal problems. More than one-thousand-two-hundred of the people were infected with Helicobacter pylori. Two-hundred-eighty people were not infected with the bacteria.

The scientists studied the patients for up to ten years. They found that killing the bacteria prevented or delayed the development of stomach cancer. Almost three percent of the people infected with the bacteria developed stomach cancer during the study. However, none of the uninfected patients developed cancer. Also, none of people treated with antibiotics to kill the bacteria developed stomach cancer.

Timothy Wang is a scientist at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester. He and another researcher examined the research. Their comments were published in the same issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. Doctor Wang says Helicobacter pylori is easy to discover. So doctors may be able to prevent stomach cancer with antibiotics. He said this kind of program might be attempted first in Japan. This is because stomach cancer is a leading cause of cancer deaths in Japan. In fact, researchers say cancer of the stomach is the second leading cause of cancer deaths around the world.

Doctor Wang said Helicobacter pylori is extremely common. In some countries, ninety percent of the population has been infected with the bacteria by age nine. In the United States, up to forty percent of the population carries the bacteria. Also, people infected usually do not show signs of having the bacteria in their bodies.

Scientists says more studies like this will help influence people to take part in future programs to destroy the bacteria.

This VOA Special English Science Report was written by Jill Moss.