Study Shows that Disrupted Gut Bacteria May Contribute to the Spread of Breast Cancer

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You already know that what you eat impacts your health, but did you know that the state of your gut microbiome could make a huge difference in the growth and spread of your breast cancer? Breast cancer can only kill if it metastasizes to vital organs, so keeping your gut bacteria healthy could mean a serious benefit in terms of your overall health.

New research in mice has found that a disruption in gut bacteria can allow breast cancer cells to grow and spread more aggressively, while undisrupted gut bacteria is linked with a slower rate of cancer growth.

Melanie Rutkowski, Ph.D., of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, and her team published their study in Cancer Research. They gave mice with hormone receptor-positive mammary cancer powerful doses of antibiotics and fecal microbiota transplants to disrupt their gut bacteria and cause inflammation.

“When we disrupted the microbiome’s equilibrium in mice by chronically treating them [with] antibiotics, it resulted in inflammation systemically and within the mammary tissue,” Rutkowski reports. “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.”

Rutkowski says an unhealthy gut microbiome is an early predictor of invasive metastatic breast cancer in patients who have already been diagnosed with a localized version of the disease. She warns, however, that the results from the mouse study may not directly correlate with human results and that we should not assume that antibiotics are dangerous for breast cancer patients. Humans would have to take an incredibly strong dose of antibiotics to disrupt the gut in the same way the team did in the mouse study.

Along with exercise and sleep, the researchers recommend that breast cancer patients and people wanting to lower their breast cancer risk should adopt a healthy diet with lots of fiber and try to avoid processed foods.

“If you do all of those things,” Rutkowski adds, “in theory, you should have a healthy microbiome. And that, we think, is very much associated with a favorable outcome in the long term for breast cancer.”

This advice has the potential to keep some people from developing breast cancer in the first place, while others may be able to keep their cancer from becoming metastatic by using a healthy lifestyle as a complementary cancer therapy. Around five to nine percent of breast cancer cases are already metastatic at the time of diagnosis, but developing a healthy gut microbiome may even have the potential to keep metastatic cancer from spreading so quickly, which could mean longer survival times and better quality of life.

Do you practice a specific diet to keep your gut healthy while you undergo breast cancer treatments? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?
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