Alberta Cancer Foundation

Studying the Connection Between Cancer and the Microbiome

The human microbiome — the vast collection of bacteria, fungi and viruses that live in our bodies — is a quickly evolving area of medical research. It’s estimated that the micro-organisms within our microbiomes number in the trillions, and researchers believe that, collectively, these organisms form mini-ecosystems vital to our health.

Scientists began seriously investigating the role of the human microbiome around 15 years ago and have since associated it with a number of conditions, including asthma, Crohn’s disease, diabetes and, more recently, cancer.

Among the most prominent research into links between cancer and the microbiome is a 2016 study by Dr. Jennifer Wargo from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Dr. Wargo looked at fecal samples from patients suffering advanced malignant melanoma. Her results showed that patients who responded well to new immunotherapies had more diverse gut bacteria than other patients, suggesting that factors in the microbiome can impact treatment effectiveness — and that it
may be possible to treat cancer more effectively by altering the microbiome.

Research on the microbiome and how it relates to cancer is still in the early stages, but, as interest continues to build, there is strong potential for new knowledge on cancer susceptibility, development and treatment.