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Friday, 29 November, 2002, 13:52 GMT
Stomach test 'could cut cancer deaths'
H pylori
Around 40% of people are infected with H pylori
Doctors are investigating whether a screening programme for a common stomach bug could cut cancer deaths.

H pylori is often picked up during childhood, and can lie dormant in the gut without causing any symptoms for decades.

But it is estimated that it causes 60% of stomach cancers. Seven thousand people die from the disease each year.

The research was discussed at a meeting of almost 200 doctors at a British Medical Journal conference in London on Friday.


"If it is shown to be beneficial, and had been effective in reducing stomach cancer deaths, there's a strong case for introducing it.

Professor Nicholas Wald, Wolfson Institute
Doctors from the Wolfson Institute of Preventative Medicine, part of Barts and the Royal London NHS Trust, are going to track 56,000 people as part of a long-term trial, expected to last up to 15 years.

Thirty thousand have already been recruited after attending Bupa health checks.

Half will be screened, the rest will not. If those who are screened test positive for H pylori they will be given a one-week course of medication to eradicate the bug.

At the end of the study, researchers will look to see if there were fewer stomach cancers in the group which was screened.

'Massive impact'

Professor Nicholas Wald, who is leading the research, told BBC News Online: "We know H pylori is a major cause of stomach cancer.

"What we don't know is whether treating it in middle life will reduce the risk of stomach cancer."

He said if the trial did show screening was beneficial, it should be widely introduced.

"If it is shown to be beneficial, and had been effective in reducing stomach cancer deaths, there's a strong case for introducing it.

"The impact of doing this through the world would be massive. Stomach cancer is the second most commonest fatal cancer in the world, behind lung cancer.

'Public good'

The BMJ conference also discussed whether new confidentiality laws had undermined some screening trials.

Doctors warned telling people they would be in the "control" group, where they receive no treatment and are compared with those who do, undermined the validity of studies.

Writing before the conference, Professor Nicholas Day of the Institute of Public Health at the University of Cambridge, said: "the public good will suffer".

He added: "It is now apparently demanded that individuals in the control group give their consent to being included as a control.

"The validity of the study is immediately undermined.

"It is highly doubtful whether any individual ever suffered harm from screening trials as previously conducted.

"It is clear, however, that the public good will suffer under the new restrictions."

The conference will also discuss whether lung-cancer screening among current and former smokers would help reduce levels of the disease and if the value of breast cancer screening in doubt?"

See also:

28 Nov 02 | Health
29 Oct 02 | Health
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