Cleveland Clinic Research Links Breast Cancer to Bacterial Imbalance

CLEVELAND – Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the U.S., affecting one in every eight women.

Now, in a new study, Cleveland Clinic researchers have uncovered differences between the breast tissue of healthy women and women with breast cancer.

For the study, researchers examined the tissues of 78 patients who underwent mastectomies related to breast cancer.

“This is a pilot study that looked at breast cancers and non-cancerous breast tissues and there was some bacteria that were overrepresented in breast cancers compared to non-cancer breast tissues, and vice versa,” said Charis Eng, M.D., Ph.D., co-senior author of the study and chair of Cleveland Clinic’s Genomic Medicine Institute.

Dr. Eng said the bacteria that live in and on the body are known as the ‘microbiome.’ Previous research on the gut microbiome has shown that when this system gets out of balance, it becomes easier for disease to grow.

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She said the next step is to look at whether they could target the bacteria that is specifically in the breast cancer tissue with treatment, or even better, pinpoint the problem area and target it before the breast cancer has a chance to develop.

Dr. Eng is hopeful that discoveries made in this research will someday lead to better and less harsh treatments for breast cancer – for instance, treating people with a targeted probiotic instead of chemotherapy.

“Chemotherapy targets the fastest growing cells and so, it not only hits the cancer, but also the faster growing normal cells in the body,” said Dr. Eng. Imagine if we could, instead of giving chemotherapy to the whole body, if we could just give something that targets the cancer, wherever it may be, breast or otherwise,” 

And while the results are not yet at the point where they can be translated into a treatment, Dr. Eng said it highlights the importance of getting cancer patients involved in research.

“It’s a time to say, ‘I want to participate in your research,’ because I, the patient, or the family of a patient, want to take the opportunity of using my own disease to help millions of people around the world, and perhaps even myself in a few years.” 

Complete results of the study can be found in the journal Oncotarget.

PRESS RELEASE: Cleveland Clinic Researchers Find Link Between Bacterial Imbalances and Breast Cancer