Helicobacter Pylori (H.Pylori) is a common bacterial infection of the lining of the stomach. It affects around half of adults in the UK with virtually everyone becoming infected by the time they reach the age of seventy.
Unfortunately H. Pylori often causes no symptoms but is associated with the development of a number of significant conditions such as stomach cancer. It is estimated that 2500 new cases of stomach cancer occurring within the UK each year are linked to the presence of H.Pylori infection.
Research from the University of Leeds published in the British Medical Journal last week demonstrated that screening for H.Pylori – perhaps as part of a full health check or health assessment – can reduce the risk of developing stomach cancer by one-third. The research team found that only 51 stomach cancers occurred among 3294 individuals tested and treated for H. Pylori compared to 74 out of 3203 control subjects who had not been screened
A simple stool sample or a blood sample can be used to test for H.Pylori. Moreover, if the infection is found the treatment is very straightforward involving one week of tablets taken by mouth. Most commonly the therapy consists of two types of antibiotics and something to reduce the amount of acid produced by the stomach cells.
Sadly stomach cancer survival rates remain low with less than one fifth of people living for five years or more after diagnosis. Around 4,800 people in the UK died from stomach cancer in 2011.
Health screening including H. Pylori testing in people with or without any symptoms in their abdomen (tummy) is a simple way to reduce the devastating impact of stomach cancer on individuals and their families. Even those who have been tested in the past should also consider having further health screening as 2% of H. Pylori infections can recur.