October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s a period of the year aimed at raising awareness about a condition that is the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the fifth cause of cancer deaths in the world. In lieu of this, researchers are examining the various risk factors that can not only increase one’s risk of developing this disease but also how these factors can influence its progression. One angle that has recently been looked at is gut health.
Previous research has suggested that gut microbes have untapped life-saving potential as a target for interventions regarding breast cancer. That said, a new study has indicated that poor gut health may play a role in the spread of breast cancer to other sites in the body.
In 2020, over 600 000 women across the world died from breast cancer, with metastatic breast cancer being the cause of the vast majority of deaths. Metastatic breast cancer is when breast cancer spreads to other sites of the body. As only 29% of women and 22% of men with metastatic breast cancer survive five years, it is important to understand what triggers cancer to spread.
For years, researchers have attempted to deduce why breast cancer metastasizes in some patients, but not others. That said, a study has suggested that the answer may be found in the gut.
The microbiome and breast cancer
Photo by Klaus Nielsen from Pexels
In a study published in Cancer Immunology Research, Dr. Rutkowski and her team found that an unhealthy gut may make it easier for breast cancer to metastasize.
“What we found was is that having an unhealthy gut microbiome actually changed the breast tissue even before the tumor was present. It’s kind of setting the stage so that when a tumor is there, it’s got all the resources it needs now to metastasize to other parts of the body.” – Dr. Rutkowski
There are many things that can disrupt a healthy gut, most notably poor diet, antibiotic use, inactivity, and alcohol consumption. When this happens, then healthy immune cells are compromised.
The immune system contains mast cells, which play a pivotal role in how the immune system responds to certain bacteria and parasites. According to research, mast cells are “orchestrators of anti-tumor immunity and tumor control.”
According to Dr. Rutkowski’s research, it appears that a disrupted gut microbiome may reprogram mast cells in such a way that tumor cells end up metastasizing to other organs.
Protecting gut health for breast health
Dr. Rutkowski hopes that the new study will encourage doctors to examine the gut–mast cell relationship in their patients who have breast cancer, which may help reduce the risk of cancer metastasizing.
In the meantime, it would be a good idea for you to re-examine how healthy your gut is, regardless of if you have breast cancer or not. If you’re hoping to maintain optimal gut health, then we might suggest following a plant-based diet, which features fermented foods like kefir, miso, and sauerkraut, as well as foods rich in probiotics like Greek yogurt. It would also be advisable to cut back on your alcohol intake, get enough exercise, sleep well and manage your stress levels.
However, if you’re looking to do the same, you may want to re-think it as the FDA has wanted that breast implants may increase the risk of cancer.
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