Skip to main content

Dublin, Ireland, 29 September 2021: New research from RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences has found a possible relationship between the presence of a specific type of bacteria found in tumors and the spread of bowel cancer.  

The findings were published in the leading gastroenterology journal Gut,   The research will help clinicians identify patients at risk of poorer outcomes. It will also help them make decisions on treatment options for patients with bowel cancer whose tumors are infected with the bacterium Fusobacterium nucleatum.

Bowel cancer statistics

According to the Irish Cancer Society, almost 3,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in Ireland each year. Worldwide, bowel cancer presently accounts for approximately 10% of new cancer cases diagnosed (1.9m cases, WHO 2020).

In this collaborative study with Queens University Belfast, samples from patients from Northern Ireland and from over 600 patients from the Cancer Genome Atlas were analysed. The Cancer Genome Atlas is an international programme that analyses the genetic mutations responsible for cancer types to help researchers and clinicians to better understand the disease and how to treat it.

The study was supported by the RCSI and the Irish Centre for High-End Computing (ICHEC) and funded by the Health Research Board, Science Foundation Ireland and the Northern Ireland Department for the Economy (NI DfE).

The study looked at how tumors  are infected with bacteria

Using genomic sequencing, researchers are now able to detect traces of an infection with bacteria or other microbes in patients’ tumors that previously would have been undetectable.

The RCSI-led research set out to understand which tumours are infected with bacteria, and what the role of a bacterial infection means in terms of how the disease progresses.

Bowel cancer and cell behaviour

The research found that a collection of bacteria that normally lives in the oral cavity infects bowel tumors, changes how tumor cells behave, and may trigger the spread of the tumor to other organs. The study suggests that there is a direct relationship between the presence of a bacteria called Fusobacterium nucleatum and the spread of bowel cancer, resulting in poorer outcomes for a subset of patients.

Personalized treatment colorectal cancer treatment is needed

Bowel Cancer: Jochen PrehnLead researcher, Jochen Prehn, Professor of Physiology and Director of the Centre for Systems Medicine at RCSI said:  “An effective tool to help oncologists to personalise colorectal cancer treatment is urgently needed.”

“This study demonstrates the role that bacteria play in the spread of bowel cancer in patients. We hope these finding  will enhance diagnostics to improve the efficacy of current treatment and help further advance the use of new therapeutics for patients infected with this bacterium”, added Professor Prehn.



BMJ Gut:

RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences is a world-leading university for Good Health and Well-being. Ranked second in the world for its contribution to UN Sustainable Development Goal 3 in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2021, it is exclusively focused on education and research to drive improvements in human health worldwide.

RCSI is an international not-for-profit university, headquartered in Dublin. It is among the top 250 universities worldwide in the World University Rankings (2022). RCSI has been awarded Athena Swan Bronze accreditation for positive gender practice in higher education.


Em Sloane

I am an introverted nature lover, and long time contributor to My role is to publish the information in a consumer friendly format, which we receive on the latest medical news, press releases and general information on the latest longevity related research findings.

The content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.