An intriguing new study shows how bacteria and the dreaded disease are connected

By Charlotte Hilton Andersen

It seems like every day another story comes out about how certain types of bacteria are good for you. But while most of the recent research has focused on the kinds of bacteria found in your gut and consumed in food, a new Applied and Environmental Microbiology study finds that when it comes to breast cancer, the best bugs may be the ones in your boobs. (More: 9 Must-Know Facts About Breast Cancer)

Researchers analyzed the bacteria found inside the breasts of 58 women with breast lumps (45 women had breast cancer and 13 had benign growths) and compared them to samples taken from 23 women with no lumps in their breasts.

There was a difference in the types of bugs found in healthy breast tissue versus the cancerous tissue. Specifically, the women with cancer had higher numbers of Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Staphylococcus epidermidis (Staph) while the healthy women had colonies of Lactobacillus (the type of bacteria found in yogurt) and Streptococcus thermophilus (not to be confused with the kinds of Streptococcus responsible for illnesses, like strep throat and skin infections). This makes sense considering that E. coli and Staph bacteria are known to damage DNA.

So does this mean breast cancer is caused by a bacterial infection? Not necessarily, lead researcher Gregor Reid, Ph.D. said in a press release. But it does seem to play a role. Reid said he originally decided to study the microbiome inside the breasts after previous research had shown that breast milk contains certain types of healthy bacteria, and breastfeeding has been linked to lower incidence of breast cancer. (Here are some more Health Benefits of Breastfeeding.)

Much more research needs to be done before any recommendations can be made, and we can't say that eating yogurt and other probiotic foods will translate to a reduced risk of breast cancer just yet. But, hey, what's a delicious smoothie without yogurt in it anyway?


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