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The Breast Microbiome Is Different in Women with Cancer

November 16, 2016
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Did you know that we humans have an entire microbiome full of diverse bacteria and organisms within our own bodies? Numbered at more than a trillion, these residents of our personal microbiome outnumber even our own cell count by more than three to one. It’s then safe to say that these little creatures can have a huge impact on our bodies. In fact, they are extremely influential factors of our bodies’ health, and can be the cause of many different medical conditions and diseases, like Crohn’s disease and anxiety. But that’s only considering the microbiome of bacteria that resides in our stomachs and intestinal tracts. So what about bacterial colonies elsewhere in the body? The Mayo Clinic has performed recent studies on the bacteria found in the breast tissue of women with and without breast cancer. As the leading cause of cancer death in women, breast cancer is a global epidemic. Since the microbiome has emerged as having a hand in cancer development and its progression, the microenvironment in breast tissue, consisting of epithelium, stroma and a mucosal immune system, has recently undergone a second look. When compared to the microscopic world of skin tissue adjacent to the breast tissue, there was a large disparity. Additionally, the microbiome in the breast tissue of women with benign breast disease varied greatly from that of women who did have cancer. The cancerous breast tissue had a microbiome consisting of many different bacteria like Fusobacterium, Atopobium and Lactobacillus—which were completely distinct from the bacteria inches away from the breast tissue. Further, not only were the bacteria different, but they were much more abundant. The results of the study still leave the role of the microbial ecosystems themselves vague. What does the amount of bacteria and microbes, or the lack of them, mean for if someone is to develop breast cancer? Further research is going to be done by the team of researchers at the Mayo Clinic on whether these present bacteria make the cancer better, worse, or even perhaps, have a role in its development. Research has been slightly hindered due to the fact that the research and medical community is more likely to fund exploration into the microbiome in your stomach. Due to the fact that diseases dealing with this area of the body have more recognition. This is thanks in part to initiatives like the Human Microbiome Project. The microbiomes that reside within human tissues, like breast tissue, have not been as delved into and little research has actually been done. The ideal outcome of further research would perhaps be a “microbial risk-prediction signature,” according to Tina J. Hieken, a Mayo Clinic breast surgical oncologist who led the previous study. To make any clear results in the scientific research, those in the lab will have to increase the size of their samples and be sure that they can reproduce the results they garner. Time is scarce for cancer research, but hopefully further research into the complex world of bacteria and organisms in our body can provide some answers with quick results.
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