Breast Health: The Microbiome of the Breast
We often hear about the microbiome of the gut but did you know that your breasts also have an ecosystem of their own? The presence or absence of certain bacteria in breast tissue may have a huge impact on breast health and risk of breast cancer. We’re exploring the microbiome of the breast today.
Microbiome is the term used for microorganisms that live in a particular environment. There are countless microbes constantly surrounding us, some of which support our health and others of which cause sickness and disease. The intestines, skin and breasts (among other areas of the body) all have a unique microbiome that researchers now understand requires an intricate balance for sustained health.
The microbiome of the gut is particularly important because it helps control the body’s immune system. Obviously the gut is populated with bacteria and other microbiota through our food sources, as well as other means of introduction.
New discoveries about the microbiome of the breast show that this area is also critical for women’s health and may determine risk factors of breast cancer. Women’s breast tissue houses their own robust microbiome that differs in type and quantity of microbiota from other parts of the body including other skin tissue.
Two recent studies have examined the microbiome of the breast: one from the Mayo Clinic and another from Western University in Ontario. Breast tissue from women with and without breast cancer was compared. Women without breast cancer had more Lactococcus and Streptococcus bacteria. Women with breast cancer had more Enterobacteriaceae, Staphylococcus, Bacillus, Fusobacterium, Atopobium and Lactobacillus.
Bacteria can enter breast tissue through internal channels just like other tissue penetration throughout the body. But the microbiome of the breast is also affected by what enters through the nipples and ducts. This may be why it differs significantly from other skin tissue in the body.
Researchers do not yet know how microbiota affects women’s breasts. Some may have pro-inflammatory factors or become DNA mutators that incite cancer, while others may slow the growth of cancer cells. There is also the question of whether it the presence or lack of certain bacteria that leads to cancer. This field of study is too new to answer these important questions, but it is certainly a step in the right direction to new scientific discoveries for women’s health.
Both studies were conducted on a very small number of subjects, all of whom were being biopsied due to breast abnormalities. The research will continue and future studies will need to increase the sample size for more accurate findings. But the implications of the research could point to specific breast health and breast cancer risk factors that may help with early detection and prevention.
Sources: The Washington Post and Scientific American