The connection between the microbiome and cancer is strong enough that the microbiome has been proposed as a screening tool for early stages of colorectal cancer.
Many trillions of microorganisms live in and on us, many of which are in our gut―in fact, non-human microbe cells in our bodies outnumber our human cells. Over thousands of years, our bodies have developed a symbiotic relationship with these organisms, generally supporting each other’s health and well-being. In exchange for food and lodging, these microorganisms:1
- Help with digestion and produce essential vitamins and minerals
- Support intestinal wall integrity
- Influence our sleep cycles and immune system
- Signal to each other to affect functions
- Inflammation system
- Brain and nervous system
- Immune system
- Excess estrogen
- Compromised immune function
The connection between the microbiome and cancer is strong enough that the microbiome has been proposed as a screening tool for early stages of colorectal cancer.3 Early evidence shows that the pancreatic microbiome is substantially different in cancer patients and that antibiotic alteration of the pancreatic microbiome can slow disease progression in mice.4
Some initial evidence shows that the microbiome in the cervix and vagina may relate to or indicate ovarian cancer risk. Lower levels of the protective bacteria lactobacillus in the microbiota in the cervix was associated with higher incidence of ovarian cancer or or BRCA1 mutation status, especially in younger women. The research is too preliminary to draw a causal relationship, and no evidence yet shows that restoring the lactobacillus microbiota in the cervix/vagina might lower the risk.5
Dr. Tina Kaczor concludes: “We are just beginning to define an optimal microbiome that will positively affect outcomes of chemotherapy or immunotherapies. Given the early data, it appears likely that commensal organisms [microbes] are integrally involved in a tumor’s response to many cancer treatments. In addition, bacterial diversity appears to be associated with better treatment response. . . A healthy omnivorous diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, along with exercise and proper sleep, may be the best, though less-than-precise, prescription to complement conventional therapies.”67
See Eating Well for a discussion of foods that support a healthy microbiome.