As early as the 1800s, physicians noted a curious finding: Some cancer patients who happened to get bacterial infections seemed to also have decreased growth in tumors. While these bacterial infections didn’t cure the patients, physicians were curious if the bacterial exposure somehow triggered an immune response that helped to fight it.
Recently, researchers are refocusing their efforts on these tiny microorganisms to better understand bacteria’s role in the development and the treatment of cancer. In the summer issue of Cancer Today, a publication of the American Association for Cancer Research, contributing writer Stephen Ornes provides a historical perspective of scientists’ evolving understanding of bacteria in the human body and its potential role in bolstering new immunotherapies. In studies, mice exposed to certain bacterial strains responded better to immunotherapy or had slower tumor growth than those who were not. While the research is early, bacteria could ultimately help patients respond to treatments.
In an accompanying article, Cancer Today explores the role of probiotic supplements, which contain “good” live bacteria that help break down food in the gut. Experts in the article recommend that patients first speak with their doctors before taking probiotics, and suggest eating probiotic-rich food sources, such as yogurt and leafy green vegetables.
In another story, Cancer Today reports on a procedure that could potentially cure patients who come down with life-threatening Clostridium difficile infections, which cause severe diarrhea. The procedure, called a fecal microbiota transplant, transplants stool from a healthy donor directly to a patient’s gut, bringing healthy bacteria into the gut.
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