Bacteria could be used to target breast cancer

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The type of bacteria found in breast tissue can affect a person’s risk of developing breast cancer, according to a Canadian study.

It is hoped the findings of the study by Lawson Health Research Institute in Ontario, Canada could lead to preventative treatments based around probiotics.

Good and bad bacteria

The study looked at breast tissue samples from 58 women who were undergoing lumpectomies or mastectomies for either benign (13 women) or cancerous (45) tumours.

It also looked at 23 healthy women who had undergone breast reduction or enhancement surgery.

Dr Gregor Reid, Professor of Surgery and Microbiology & Immunology, found that women with breast cancer had high levels of Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus epidermidis. These bacteria are known to induce double-stranded breaks in DNA. When DNA suffers a double-stranded break, repairs are often full of errors that can lead to cancer development.

Health-promoting bacteria like Lactobacillus and Streptococcus were more prevalent in healthy breasts than in cancerous ones. Both these bacteria have anticarcinogenic properties.

Importance of breast milk

The study came about after it was revealed that breast cancer risk decreases during breast feeding.

Since human milk contains beneficial bacteria, Dr Reid wanted to find out if they might be playing a role in lowering the risk of cancer.

Dr Reid also suggests women don’t need to be lactating to get the benefits of the bacteria, with Spanish studies showing that probiotics ingested by women can reach the mammary gland.

Using antibiotics to target bacteria that help cancer could be another treatment option for improving breast cancer management, says Dr Reid.

He now wants other research team to find out what is keeping bacteria in check on and in the breasts.


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