When it comes to women’s health, there are few things scarier than the “c” word, especially breast cancer. After all, it accounts for 25% of all cancers and is the leading cause of cancer death among women. And while we have some understanding of risk factors, it’s clearly not enough because almost ¾ of diagnoses happen in women of “average” risk.
The good news is we may be on the verge of a breakthrough.
New research by the Mayo Clinic finds that there is a distinct breast tissue microbiome – the collection of microorganisms found in the body or a specific part of the body – that is different from the microbiome of the skin that covers the breast, and the bacteria found in healthy breast tissue are different from those found in cancerous breast tissue.
A similar study found that women with tumors had higher levels of the bacteria Enterobacteriaceae (including the strain E. coli), Staphylococcus and Bacillus, and these microorganisms damaged DNA. By contrast, women without tumors had higher levels of Lactococcus and Streptococcus bacteria, suggesting that these bacteria may have cancer-fighting properties – something bolstered by previous studies that showed the probiotic lactobacillus might be able to break down cancer-causing compounds, and that taking probiotic supplements with lactobacillus can result in an increase of that bacteria in the breast.
This information adds to our understanding of how the human microbiome affects our health and how differences in microbiota can play a role in diseases like cancer of the organs (such as the breasts, stomach, colon, liver, lungs, and skin).
So while changes in bacterial makeup, the appearance of a harmful strain of bacteria, or a deficiency in beneficial bacteria may all promote cancer development in the breast, further research can be done to identify potential causes of breast cancer and develop new microbial-based prevention.
If you’re worried about breast cancer, live a healthy, balanced lifestyle, and don’t discount the benefits of a balanced microbiome!
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David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.