H Pylori: Cause or Prevention for Stomach Cancers?
H pylori, also known as helicobacter pylori, are bacteria that are estimated to live in 30 to 50% of the world’s general population. This type of bacteria is known to cause all sorts of gastric issues including peptic ulcers, gastritis, and stomach cancer.
Normally, our immune system fights bacteria off before an infection can ever become sever enough to cause something like stomach cancer. H pylori infections are different, however. It has found a way to avoid the body’s natural responses by locating itself in an area where it cannot be reached for attached.
Additionally, H pylori hides away for decades and in most cases, a person infected with the bacteria has no idea that it is even there. It is most often discovered because of stomach ulcers and gastritis, two conditions that develop in only 10% of the people who have H pylori infections.
Since it is undetected in 80 to 90% of people, it has plenty of time to set up house and wreak havoc on healthy stomach cells. After a while, these little germs can cause stomach cell mutations that are best known to most people as stomach cancer.
Why H Pylori Causes so Much Trouble
The bacterium is a spiral-shaped germ that lives in the internal mucous lining of the stomach because of the acidic environment found there. They secrete an enzyme which created ammonia by converting the chemical urea to neutralize the acid, allowing it to live in such a harsh environment.
Since it’s shaped like a spiral, the H pylori germ can bury itself deeper in the stomach lining where there is less acidic and stays put. It is this that makes it possible for the germ to cause cancer after inhabiting the stomach for a long time. The germ can also attach itself to the cells that line the stomach.
Our body’s natural immune system attempts to attach H pylori infections and antibodies can be found in heavy concentrations. However, these immune cells can’t get to the bacteria because the cells can’t reach the stomach. So, without outside treatment the bacteria is virtually unaffected by our natural defenses.
As mentioned earlier, treatment is only sought when there is a confirmed problem like a peptic ulcer. Adding to this, less than half of people who have peptic ulcers seek treatment for the condition. In people who have a family history of cancer, this can spell disaster as the germs do their work on the health of stomach cells.
Types of Stomach Cancer
Known as “gastric cancer” to your doctor, stomach cancer is categorized two ways: as gastric cardia cancer and non-cardia gastric cancer. Cardia cancer develops at the top of the stomach and at the base of the esophagus while non-cardia cancer develops anywhere else in the stomach.
Up to 10,000 deaths in the U.S. alone have occurred in the past five years due to a type of stomach cancer and 21,000 new cases have been confirmed. Stomach is one of the leading causes of cancer death and is second only to lung cancer.
Early detection is the key to survival in nearly all forms of cancer; which is a problem in H pylori stomach cancers since the bacteria so rarely presents H pylori symptoms.
Treatment for an H pylori infection in which the bacteria is completely eradicated (meaning it no longer is active in the body) can help to reduce the risk of stomach cancer.
Per-cancer sores (ulcer-type lesions) that are eliminated because H pylori bacteria are no longer affecting acid secretion can prevent, or at least prolong, the redevelopment of lesions.
H Pylori-Related Stomach Cancers and Cancer Suppression
While there is no conclusive study showing that the bacteria is a direct cause of stomach cancer, it certainly seems to be a risk factor that ranks in with family history and susceptibility to cell mutations that cause some cancer. H pylori infection is associated with more than one type of stomach cancer, though in some cases it seems to decrease the risk rather than increase it.
MALT lymphoma is a rare form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that is well known to include the slow development of immune cells in the lining of the stomach. H pylori actually causes the body to attempt to grow more immune cells in this area, so it is still a mystery to doctors why H pylori seems to be present in nearly all cases of MALT lymphoma.
In cases of cardia stomach cancers, H pylori are present in only a third of cases. This is especially true in Western societies with access to medical care and antibiotics. The region is well treated for infection and has seen a rise in this type of stomach cancer, which further implicated the inverse relationship. This type of suppression may also be present in esophageal cancers, which has also steadily increased in developed countries where H pylori is being eradicated.