JUN 11, 2019 04:14 PM PDT

A poor gut microbiome could cause breast cancer to spread

New research from the University of Virginia Cancer Center and recently published in the journal Cancer Research suggests that an unhealthy gut microbiome could result in the spread of breast cancer throughout the body.

The research was spearheaded by Melanie Rutkowski, PhD, of UVA's Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Cancer Biology. Dr. Rutkowski used mice to show how an unhealthy gut caused breast cancer to become much more aggressive, leading it to disseminate to other parts of the body.

"When we disrupted the microbiome's equilibrium in mice by chronically treating them antibiotics, it resulted in inflammation systemically and within the mammary tissue," Dr. Rutkowski explains. "In this inflamed environment, tumor cells were much more able to disseminate from the tissue into the blood and to the lungs, which is a major site for hormone receptor-positive breast cancer to metastasize."

"Disrupting the microbiome resulted in long-term inflammation within the tissue and the tumor environment," Rutkowski said. "These findings suggest that having an unhealthy microbiome, and the changes that occur within the tissue that are related to an unhealthy microbiome, may be early predictors of invasive or metastatic breast cancer. Ultimately, based upon these findings, we would speculate that an unhealthy microbiome contributes to increased invasion and a higher incidence of metastatic disease."

Scientists still have much to learn about our microbiomes. Photo: Pixabay

However, Rutkowski is quick to reassure that the use of antibiotics in human women should not be enough to disrupt a women’s microbiome to the extent that she was with the mice in her research. Instead, she says, her methods utilized antibiotics as a means to disrupt the microbiomes of the mice and simulate what an unhealthy biome looks like, so as to determine its influence on the spread of breast cancer. Women with breast cancer should not, she says, refrain using antibiotics if needed to treat an infection just because of her study’s results.

The take-home message from Dr. Rutkowski's research is how crucial a healthy microbiome is, not just to prevent the spread of breast cancer, but for overall good health.

Sources: Eureka AlertCancer Research

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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