Think your gut microbiome is the only one that plays a role in breast cancer?
Turns out your breasts may have a bacterial environment all their own and knowing about it could be a game-changer in breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and prevention.
Researchers from Cleveland Clinic noted that healthy breast tissue contains more Methylobacterium, which is a species of bacteria. The breast tissue in healthy women and women with breast cancer varies in its bacterial composition—something that could aid us in detection, prevention, and treatment of the disease.
We often hear about the gut microbiome, but researchers think that the microbiome in our breasts could play a role in breast cancer.
“To my knowledge, this is the first study to examine both breast tissue and distant sites of the body for bacterial differences in breast cancer,” said co-senior author Charis Eng, M.D., Ph.D., chair of Cleveland Clinic’s Genomic Medicine Institute and director of the Center for Personalized Genetic Healthcare. “Our hope is to find a biomarker that would help us diagnose breast cancer quickly and easily.”
Ultimately, Eng said that scientists hope they could use knowledge of bacterial composition to aid them in preventing cancer with probiotics or antibiotics. But he noted that scenario is in his “wildest dreams.”
As part of the study, researchers looked at tissue from breasts of 78 patients who had a mastectomy for invasive carcinoma or elective cosmetic breast surgery. In addition, they assessed oral rinse and urine to determine the bacterial composition of those parts of the body.
In addition to finding that healthier women had more Methylobacterium, they discovered that cancer patients’ urine samples had increased levels of gram-positive bacteria, including Staphylococcus and Actinomyces. More studies could help to determine the role that those organisms have in breast cancer.
“If we can target specific pro-cancer bacteria, we may be able to make the environment less hospitable to cancer and enhance existing treatments,” said Stephen Grobymer, M.D., section head of surgical oncology and director of breast services at Cleveland Clinic (and a co-author).
His research continues, as Grobmyer and Eng are working with a Hebrew University team to devise new treatments using nanotechnology to deliver antibiotics directly to the bacterial community in breast cancer.
Other studies have looked at the association between breast cancer and gut microbiome. They indicate that microbes in our gut have a role in estrogen level regulation, which can be tied to estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer.