By Sean Zucker –
Fungi have gained lots of attention recently thanks to their growing impact on human health for better and worse. Reports, for example, have surfaced on the potential mental benefits certain magic mushrooms may provide, while others warn the next pandemic could be fungal in origin. What is the fungus and cancer connection? A new report warns that this trendy high-profile organism may be tied to the growth of colorectal cancer in those under 50.
Colorectal cancer is already serious business. The National Cancer Institute reports that colorectal cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among people under 50. This year alone has already racked up more than 150,000 new cases, nearly 20,000 of which hit individuals under 50. Roughly a fourth of all colorectal cancer deaths hit this demographic, and the National Cancer Institute only expects this number to continue to climb.
Georgetown University researchers recently developed a theory for the jump, identifying a fungus named Cladosporium Sp as a possible culprit. The suspect fungus is known for its ability to cause skin and nail infections but has been rarely found in the gut. The Georgetown team, however, increasingly discovered it while tracking cancer patients lurking in the gut microbiomes of those under 50.
“A lot of people blame obesity and diabetes,” noted Dr. Benjamin Weinberg, the study’s lead author. “But we have these patients who run marathons, and they eat [healthy diets]. They’ve got very advanced colorectal cancer.”
Weinberg’s team found that the tumors from these younger patients were more likely to contain Cladosporium sp. There is no explanation for how the fungus is making its way into gut microbiomes, but the Georgetown research believes its appearance might be damaging cell DNA and causing cancer.
“There was some sort of exposure in the 1970s or 1980s—maybe everybody started taking antibiotics for ear infections, or they stopped breastfeeding—something happened where this cohort is seeing this rise, and we don’t know why,” Weinberg reported.
The George study was admittedly small-scale, involving only 63 patients. As a result, Weinberg acknowledges more research is needed. Nonetheless, the research may help offset a budding spike in a massive health crisis. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer type across all ages worldwide. It is also the second most common cause of cancer-related death, accounting for about one million deaths annually.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that colorectal cancer generally develops from abnormal growths or polyps in the colon or rectum, and early detection and treatment are crucial so polyps can be removed before turning cancerous.