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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

breast cancer
Photo by Klaus Nielsen from Pexels

Dr. Melanie Rutkowski is an associate professor of microbiology, immunology, and cancer biology at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

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. 

Want to know more?

A lot of people are going under the knife for breast-focused surgeries, with patients spending over $1 billion on breast augmentation in 2020. 

breast implants | Longevity LIVE

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.

References

Feng, T. Y., Azar, F. N., Dreger, S. A., Buchta Rosean, C., McGinty, M. T., Putelo, A. M., Kolli, S. H., Carey, M. A., Greenfield, S., Fowler, W. J., Robinson, S. D., & Rutkowski, M. R. (2022). Reciprocal interactions between the gut microbiome and mammary tissue mast cells promote metastatic dissemination of HR+ breast tumors. Cancer immunology research, CIR-21-1120. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1158/2326-6066.CIR-21-1120

Lei, S., Zheng, R., Zhang, S., Wang, S., Chen, R., Sun, K., Zeng, H., Zhou, J., & Wei, W. (2021). Global patterns of breast cancer incidence and mortality: A population-based cancer registry data analysis from 2000 to 2020. Cancer communications (London, England)41(11), 1183–1194. https://doi.org/10.1002/cac2.12207 

Ruo, S. W., Alkayyali, T., Win, M., Tara, A., Joseph, C., Kannan, A., Srivastava, K., Ochuba, O., Sandhu, J. K., Went, T. R., Sultan, W., Kantamaneni, K., & Poudel, S. (2021). Role of Gut Microbiota Dysbiosis in Breast Cancer and Novel Approaches in Prevention, Diagnosis, and Treatment. Cureus13(8), e17472. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.17472

Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba is a beauty and wellness writer who has a passion for poetry, equality, natural hair, and skin-care. With a journalism degree from Pearson's Institute of Higher Education, and identifiable by either her large afro or colorful locks, Pie aspires to continuously provide the latest information, be it beauty or wellness, on how one can adopt a healthy lifestyle on a day-to-day basis.

The content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.

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