In a new study, researchers found that an unhealthy, inflamed gut causes breast cancer to become much more invasive and spread more quickly to other parts of the body.
The research was conducted by a team from the University of Virginia Cancer Center.
Most breast cancers are hormone receptor positive. That means cancer growth is fueled by a hormone, either estrogen or progesterone.
These types of cancers are likely to respond well to hormone therapy.
Predicting whether such cancers will spread beyond the breast to other parts of the body is a big challenge, and is primarily driven by the time of diagnosis.
One trigger is having a high level of immune cells called macrophages present within the tissue. In addition, increased amounts of the structural protein collagen in the tissue and tumor also lead to increased breast cancer metastasis.
In the study, the team found that disrupting the gut microbiome could cause hormone receptor-positive breast cancer to become more aggressive.
They found that in mice the disrupted gut microbiome resulted in inflammation systemically and within the mammary tissue.
In this inflammation, tumor cells were much more able to disseminate from the tissue into the blood and to the lungs.
Lungs are a major site for hormone receptor-positive breast cancer to metastasize.
The current study shows that having an unhealthy gut microbiome prior to breast cancer could increase the spread of cancer, and the effect was powerful and sustained.
The findings may help develop new prediction tools and treatments for the spread of breast cancer.
The team suggests people have a healthy diet that is high in fiber and have regular exercise and sleep.
All of those things that contribute to positive overall health and the healthy gut microbiome.
The lead author of the study is Melanie Rutkowski, PhD, of UVA’s Department of Microbiology.
The study is published in Cancer Research.
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