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The Making of Medicine

An Unhealthy Microbiome Promotes the Spread of Breast Cancer

Fascinating new research from our Melanie Rutkowski, PhD, suggests that an unhealthy gut microbiome promotes the spread of breast cancer.

Dr. Rutkowski’s new work found that disrupting the microbiome of mice caused hormone receptor-positive breast cancer — the most common type — to become much more invasive and spread much more rapidly.

“When we disrupted the microbiome’s equilibrium in mice by chronically treating them antibiotics, it resulted in inflammation systemically and within the mammary tissue,” she told me. “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.”

Dr. Rutkowski’s discovery raises the possibility that we will one day be able to manipulate the microbiome to benefit people with breast cancer. For now, though, there’s no magic recipe to do that. There are ways, however, to promote microbiome health in general, she noted: “A healthy diet, high in fiber, along with exercise, sleep – all of those things that contribute to positive overall health,” she said. “If you do all of those things, 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.”


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