Did you know that certain microorganisms hiding in your gastrointestinal tract can cause smoldering, chronic inflammation in these mucosal tissues without you even noticing any symptoms? If this colonization continues for years, these organisms may cause bowel injury, ulcers, leaky gut (associated with digestion, absorption and excretion issues), systemic inflammation, impaired immunity and possibly even cancer development.
One of the lab tests I recommend as part of my baseline screening assessment for some of my integrative oncology patients is a stool test, which looks for the presence and overgrowth by bacteria, parasites and fungi. I typically order the following test, as it is not extraordinarily costly ($367) and is very sensitive in its ability to detect microorganisms and blood (a possible sign of colorectal cancer) in stool samples. Here’s an example of a report:
More comprehensive (and more expensive) stool tests are available, which not only detect microorganisms but also include biomarkers for infection, inflammation, insufficiency, and imbalances (such as):
- Doctor’s Data: Comprehensive Stool Analysis with Parasitology
- Genova Diagnostics: GI Effects Comprehensive Stool Profile
Without examining the stool, we can easily miss an underlying cause of:
- Bowel or systemic inflammation (remember, chronic inflammation is one of the key driving factors for cancer development and progression)
- Micronutrient deficiencies
- Vague systemic complaints (i.e. fatigue, body pain, headaches, cognitive problems, light headedness, brain fog and/or general malaise)
Here’s a great example of why stool testing could be very helpful:
A few weeks ago, I saw a patient for an integrative oncology consultation who had been recently diagnosed with a small intestine lymphoma (non-Hodgkin lymphoma, follicular type.) He had undergone an extensive evaluation by a top academic lymphoma center. An endoscopic bowel biopsy diagnosed his cancer, but did not find an underlying cause. The biopsy sample was evaluated for the presence of a bacteria that might cause this cancer (Helicobacter pylori or H. pylori), but was not detected.
Since he had no symptoms, the recommendation was simply to follow him over time with endoscopies. This didn’t sit well with him and he wanted to take a more proactive, integrative oncology approach.
I found nothing surprising in his history or physical exam, so I ordered some baseline functional medicine labs on him. One of which was a stool test for microorganisms. Surprisingly, the test identified H. pylori, the pathogenic bacteria that was not able to be identified in his biopsy specimen. The stool test I ordered requires that the patient collect small stool samples over 4-days, which increases the chance that the test will be able to detect the presence of microorganisms hiding in the gut tissues.
A short 10-day course of antibiotics should be all it takes to eradicate this harmful bacteria, and he will likely be cured of his cancer. Follow-up stool testing and endoscopy will confirm whether the treatment was successful.