US researchers have uncovered differences in the bacterial composition of breast tissue of healthy women versus those with breast cancer

Breast cancer caused 571 000 deaths in 2015 and is the top cancer in women globally, according to the World Health Organisation.

Now a research team at Cleveland Clinic, Ohio, has discovered that healthy breast tissue contains more of the bacterial species methylobacterium, a finding that could offer a new perspective in the battle against breast cancer.

Bacteria that live in the body, known as the ‘microbiome’, influence many diseases.

A world first

Most research has been done on the ‘gut’ microbiome, or bacteria in the digestive tract. Scientists have long suspected that a microbiome exists within breast tissue and plays a role in breast cancer, but it has not yet been characterised.

WIN a R 2,000 Woolworths Voucher

Subscribe to our Free Daily All4Women Newsletter to enter

“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,” says 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. In our wildest dreams, we hope we can use microbiomics right before breast cancer forms and then prevent cancer with probiotics or antibiotics.”

78 patients studied

The study examined the tissues of 78 patients who underwent mastectomy for invasive carcinoma or elective cosmetic breast surgery. They also examined oral rinse and urine to determine the bacterial composition of these distant sites in the body.

In addition to the methylobacterium finding, the team discovered that cancer patients’ urine samples had increased levels of gram-positive bacteria, including staphylococcus and actinomyces. Further studies are needed to determine the role these organisms may play 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. Larger studies are needed but this work is a solid first step in better understanding the significant role of bacterial imbalances in breast cancer,” says co-senior author Stephen Grobmyer, M.D, section head of Surgical Oncology and director of Breast Services at Cleveland Clinic.

Source: Cleveland Clinic

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.