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Groundbreaking: An Unhealthy Gut Helps Spread Breast Cancer

Scientists recently made a correlation between poor gut health and the spread of breast cancer, according to startling new research out of the UVA Cancer Center.

A team of doctors from the University of Virginia published their findings in the scientific journal Cancer Immunology Research. Their study examined the impact of unhealthy gut bacteria and its relationship to normal breast tissue, as well as how the bacteria may trigger breast cancer’s spread to distant parts of the body (known as metastasizing).

Our gut microbiome is collection of both good and bad bacteria that naturally lives inside us; and science is quickly beginning to understand just how important gut health is to overall wellness.

This bacterial gut environment can be thrown out off balance by poor diet, long-term antibiotic use, obesity, or other factors. When this happens, the ailing microbiome reprograms important immune cells in healthy breast tissue, called mast cells, to facilitate cancer’s spread. This was described in the release by UVA’s health department.

The study researcher believes her team’s findings could help scientists find ways to keep breast cancer from metastasizing throughout the body. Slow the spread, basically. Because when cancer spreads, it is often deadly: only 29% of women with metastatic breast cancer survive five years; for men with metastatic breast cancer, that figure is just 22%.

How fast does breast cancer grow throughout the body? It can depend on other health factors

Researcher Melanie R. Rutkowski, PhD, of UVA Cancer Center and the University of Virginia School of Medicine, reveals the complex relationship between our gut microbes and mast cells in the breast. Mast cells are blood cells which help regulate the body’s immune response to disease and allergens.

Rutkowski’s new work found that an unhealthy microbiome caused the mast cells to accumulate in the breast. In studies using mice, these changes continued after tumor formation, making the breast tissue a prime launching ground for the cancer cells to infiltrate other parts of the body. 

Ultimately, doctors may be able to target the gut-mast cell relationship in patients with breast cancer to help prevent the cancer from recurring and spreading.  In addition, they also may be able to use this knowledge to identify patients at risk for recurrence, allowing them to tailor the treatment strategy for the prevention of metastatic disease.

Using a personalized approach in medicine, including oncology, is an exciting move forward for patients.  As doctors consider the individual nature of a patient’s specific disease, they are better able to draft a plan to successfully attack and defeat the cancer.

Research on the gut-mast cell connection creates an opportunity to pinpoint possible intervention points that could be targeted for a customized approach to therapy. The ultimate goal would be to improve survival rates for patients diagnosed with breast cancer.

What do you think?

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