Researchers have discovered that women with breast cancer have far less of a particular bacterial species in their breast tissue than healthy women.

The new study, published in the journal Oncotarget, found that breast tissue in women with breast cancer contained far less Methylobacterium.

The finding could offer a new perspective in the battle against breast cancer and is yet another advance in understanding the role bacteria in the body play in human health. These bacteria are known as the microbiome and have been found to influence many diseases. Much research has been done on the gut microbiome in the digestive tract.

However, researchers have long suspected that a “microbiome” exists within breast tissue and plays a role in breast cancer but until this point it had not been characterized.

Senior author of the current study, the chair of the Cleveland Clinic’s Genomic Medicine Institute Dr Charis Eng, says this is the first time scientists have developed a real understanding of the composition of the bacteria 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.

“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,” Dr Eng says.

The study examined the tissue of 78 patients who had either a mastectomy for invasive carcinoma or elective cosmetic breast surgery. In addition, they examined oral rinse and urine to determine the bacterial composition of other sites in the body.

In addition to finding that the breast tissue in women with breast cancer had less Methylobacterium, the team also discovered that cancer patients’ urine samples had increased levels of gram-positive bacteria, including Staphylococcus and Actinomyces.

Dr Eng says further studies are needed to determine the role these organisms may play in breast cancer.

Fellow author Dr Stephen Grobymer says the research may lead to changes in the way breast cancer is treated.

“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,” Dr Grobmyer says.

9 Nov 2017

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