Breast cancer linked to an imbalanced microbiome, research says
(Naturalhealth365) Breast cancer, second only to lung cancer as a cause of cancer deaths among women, is expected to claim the lives of over 40,000 women in 2017 alone. As researchers race to find better methods of preventing, detecting and treating this deadly disease, they are learning more about the vital role played by the microbiome – the body’s population of bacteria – in maintaining health and combating cancer.
Today, we’ll take a closer look at how microbiomics may help researchers close in on a killer disease.
Research confirms the link between the gut microbiome and immune system health
The gut microbiome – the community of bacteria, or gut flora, living in the digestive tract – is essential for proper immunity, brain health, digestive health, and even emotional well-being. Researchers have found that beneficial bacteria protect against pathogens, help with the digestion and absorption of nutrients, reduce levels of pro-inflammatory molecules and even help regulate mood.
In fact, a surprising 70 to 80 percent of the immune system is located in the gut, while 80 percent of vital neurotransmitters, the body’s chemical messengers, are produced there as well.
However, the balance between “friendly” bacteria and infection-causing pathogenic bacteria must be maintained. Disrupted, or imbalanced, gut flora is associated with an astonishing array of serious health issues – including obesity, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, atherosclerosis and stroke.
An imbalanced microbiome can cripple the body’s natural defenses against breast cancer
As breast cancer is untreatable once it has spread, preventing metastasis is of primary importance.
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But chronic disruption of the microbiome – which can be caused by diets high in sugar, unhealthy fats and processed foods – can dramatically interfere with the immune system’s response to breast tumors, and promote the spread of breast cancer throughout the body.
According to Dr. Melanie Rutkowski, a researcher at the University of Virginia, an imbalanced microbiome can cause tumors to become more aggressive – ultimately resulting in the inability of the immune system to eliminate them.
This, however, is where microbiomics give cause for hope. Dr. Rutkowski says that evaluating the microbiome can assist early diagnosis, as doctors may be able to assess a woman’s risk for breast tumors simply by examining gut flora.
And, better yet, improving the bacterial balance in breast cancer patients can improve the odds of survival. For instance, Dr. Rutkowski maintains that complementing conventional cancer therapies with the use of probiotics and fiber can lead to better outcomes.
Researchers say: Microbiomics may hold the key to treating breast cancer
A newly-published study conducted by researchers at the Cleveland Clinic dovetails with Dr. Rutkowski‘s research, with one significant difference. This study focuses on the microbiome of the breast.
Although the gut microbiome has been the subject of the vast majority of scientific research, researchers have long suspected that microbiomes exist in other body organs and systems. The breast, in fact, may have its own “mini-microbiome” – giving rise to exciting implications for breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
In a groundbreaking study published last month in Oncotarget, researchers discovered microbial differences between the bacterial composition of breast tissue of healthy women and women with breast cancer.
The team examined the tissues of patients who had undergone mastectomy for invasive breast cancer, along with tissues from healthy women who had undergone elective cosmetic breast surgery. They discovered a significant difference – the healthy breast tissue contained higher levels of a bacterium known as methylobacteria.
In addition, researchers found that the urine of breast cancer patients was higher in two types of pathogenic bacteria, staphylococcus and actinomyces.
Of course, the team called for further study to explore the role these microbes could play in breast cancer.
The co-authors expressed their hopes that the study – the first to examine breast tissue for bacterial differences in breast cancer – could lead to improvements in cancer prevention and treatment.
Senior author Stephen Grobymer, M.D., section head of Surgical Oncology at Cleveland Clinic, noted that targeting specific cancer-promoting bacteria could make the body less hospitable to cancer, and could enhance existing cancer treatments.
Co-senior author Charis Eng, M.D., Ph.D., chair of Cleveland Clinic’s Genomic Medicine Institute, expressed the hope of preventing breast cancer before it even forms – potentially with the use of probiotics and antibiotics.
Although research on the microbiome is ongoing, it seems likely that bacterial balance – or lack of it – can have dramatic effects on the progression and spread of cancer.
Experts say that consuming healthy amounts of probiotic foods (including organic yogurt with live cultures, kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles and miso soup) can encourage the presence of healthy bacteria – helping to maintain all-important microbial balance while warding off deadly diseases.
Sources for this article include:
Cancer & Heart Disease
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