Can an unhealthy gut spread breast cancer?

Breast cancer has been a major health concern for years. Recent studies suggest that an unhealthy gut can spread breast cancer allowing it to metastasize in other areas of the body. With breast cancer being the second most deadly cancer to women in the US, stopping the spread is extremely important.

Gut health and breast cancer.

Gut health and breast cancer.

So first, let’s talk about the basics.

Breast Cancer and Gut Health

If you’ve experienced breast cancer, you know that there are some undesirable gut-related side effects of the disease itself and the common treatments. Researchers weren’t able to tell if gut problems or cancer came first. Especially since both seemed to exacerbate each other. 

Both our gut and breasts have microbiomes. These microbiomes can send out chemical signals that interact and talk to each other. So if one becomes unhealthy, it can easily and quickly alter the other. 

One study found that the breast microbiome differs between breast cancer patients and those without breast cancer. Anaerococcus, Caulobacter, and Streptococcus were found in benign tissues but were absent in cancerous tissues. 

The absence of these bacteria in the breast microbiome is a great place for researchers to start seeing if manipulation of the breast microbiome itself could help with treatments and early diagnosis.

Estrogen and certain bacteria types are the two main factors between these microbiomes that have negative impacts on their health. Women who breastfeed their babies are at a lowered risk of breast cancer because they reduce the amount of time estrogen circulates throughout their system. 

Estrogen negatively affects our breast tissues, and it can cause gastrointestinal disturbances. Estrogen is a large factor in why women experience more health problems than men do. If we look at conditions like IBS, autoimmune disorders, and others, women are at a higher risk and this is heavily attributed to hormonal differences between genders. 

When we see connections like these, even if researchers can’t find the exact link, many of the commonalities lead us to a potential cause that is more reasonable than others.

Dysbiosis Prevalence in Breast Cancer Patients

Dysbiosis is a disturbance in the balance of microorganisms living within a microbiome. When we think of dysbiosis it often looks like the following symptoms:

  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea, constipation, or a mix of the two
  • Bad breath
  • Skin conditions like eczema, acne, psoriasis, etc.
  • Brain fog
  • Decreased cognitive function and memory
  • Reduced energy levels

All of these “common” symptoms are actually early indicators of gastrointestinal dysbiosis. While they seem more annoying than dangerous, they actually are red flags that something bad is happening within our body and something needs to be done before it gets worse. 

These lead to systemic inflammation and disease of all kinds. How long dysbiosis happens before disease sets in is unknown since people generally don’t go to the doctor until these symptoms become more than just annoying. 

Cancer patients across the board experience gastrointestinal woes. Oftentimes it’s blamed on treatments and cancer itself. However, much like general gut dysbiosis, dysbiosis in cancer patients can become very problematic. 

Which gut bacteria can cause breast cancer?

Previous studies on certain gut bacteria show a strong link between breast cancer and a disrupted gut microbiome. Bacteroides fragilis is a strain that inhabits a healthy gut microbiome. However, much like E. coli different forms of that bacterial strain can be pathogenic. 

Enterotoxigenic B. fragilis (ETBF) is a form of this bacteria that releases toxins and can disrupt your intestinal microbiome. From there, it can negatively affect your other microbiomes. The toxin released during this infection leaves a lasting impression on your cells. This lets the cells remember the pathogen and not see it as a problem in the future. 

While ETBF is more often associated with colon cancers, it has recently been noted in breast cancer patients as well. When tested, women who were positive for this bacteria on their breast cultures were also positive for breast cancer linking the two together. 

So if someone has had ETBF abdominally (or any other toxigenic bacteria), they should be monitored more closely for breast cancer since this link was found to be so strong.

Can an unhealthy gut spread breast cancer?

The study linked above for ETBF also states that this specific microbe affects the mammary tissues by triggering hyperplasia (an abnormal increase of cellular reproduction) and breast cancer metastasis. So this is the first proof of an unhealthy gut causing breast cancer to spread. 

However, that is just proven after EFBF gastrointestinal infection. 

We also know from other studies that an unhealthy gut can affect how well treatments work in cancer patients. If our gut has certain bacteria or is missing certain strains of bacteria it can prevent or enhance the treatments being used.

But does that mean that a generally unhealthy gut can put us at a higher risk for cancer? And for those who already have cancer, does it put them at a higher risk of metastasis?

A recent study from Dr. Melanie Rutkowski and colleagues at the University of Virginia found that might be exactly the case. 

During the study, the researchers focused on hormone receptor-positive (HR+) breast cancer — the most common form of breast cancer. 

Since HR+ is such an aggressive form of cancer that often comes back, the researchers wanted to know why this cancer type had such a high recurrence rate. Some of the factors that recurrence can be attributed to include:

  • Obesity
  • Race
  • Diet
  • Chronic use of antibiotics
  • Genetic polymorphisms

Many of these also are things that affect the health of your gut microbiome. So instead of looking at each factor individually, they went right to the source — the gut microbiome.

The study was done on mice. They infected the mice with HR+ cancer in the breast tissue. Different groups of mice were then either given an antibiotic cocktail or water for 14 days. They gave a 4-day resting period to allow the antibiotics to affect their microbiomes before tumor initiation. 

Multiple tests were run to test how the mice were affected. Everything from histology, cytology, bacterial, fecal, and other tests were completed to see what effects a disrupted vs non-disrupted microbiome had on the mice. 

The results they found showed that while antibiotics had no effect on the initial tumor site or menstrual cycle, there was a correlation between the dysbiosis and additional tumor sites beginning. 

After finding this out, they did two different types of transplants on the mice. One transplant was with tumors from the dysbiotic mice into the non-dysbiotic mice. The other was a fecal microbial transplant from dysbiotic into non-dysbiotic mice. Both confirmed the findings that regardless of the initial tumor site, dysbiosis within the mouse leads to metastatic disease.

This study also looked at how inflammation was affected by dysbiosis. The mice with dysbiosis (even if they didn’t have tumors) experienced heightened systemic inflammation, in addition to more circulation of cytokines and chemokines putting them at a higher risk to develop the disease more quickly when they were exposed to tumors.

So not only does the dysbiosis affect the pre-existing conditions, but it also set them up for a higher risk of disease when they didn’t have cancer initially.

Even though this study was done on mice and not in humans, this opens the door to incredible opportunities for treatment ahead. We can now look into gastrointestinal options for monitoring disease development in addition to a potential new area for treatment. If dysbiosis can cause cancer progression this significantly, imagine what restoring gut health can do to stop that progression.

This is all still in the early stages of development but that doesn’t mean that we can’t start doing our part when it comes to our own health! 

How can you improve the health of your microbiome?

All of the above proves just how important maintaining homeostasis within our microbiome truly is. So how can you support your health, prevent disease, and help heal your body? Support your microbiome!

Here are some ways to get started:

  1. Focus on getting enough sleep
  2. Do low to moderate level exercise daily — try to reach that 10,000 steps/day goal. It has been linked to a lowered risk of dementia, cardiovascular disease, and cancer risk (probably because it positively impacts your gut microbiome which affects the risk of all three!)
  3. Drink plenty of water 
  4. Eat a healthy diet — model how you eat after the Mediterranean diet
  5. Be mindful in everything you do — while at it you can actually be reducing stress levels which is another way to improve your gut health
  6. Take Atrantil to feed your healthy gut microbes and reduce inflammation

These things sound familiar, right? The recipe for a healthy gut is by leading a healthy life. Start adding healthy decisions one by one so you aren’t overwhelmed. You’ll love the difference in your mood, health, and waistline when you start focusing on the things that make you healthy! Plus you reduce your risk for disease across the board. So why not start now?

Get yourself some Atrantil, go for a walk, and drink some water and you’re already on your way to a healthier you.