Metastatic disease, the spread of cancer beyond its origination in the body, causes 9 out of every 10 cancer deaths. While it’s a terrifying diagnosis, the bacteria that may be responsible for causing metastatic disease is a known mouth microbe that lives unassumingly on most people’s gums. Recent studies have found that the common microbe, Fusobacterium nucleatum, can travel through the bloodstream and infect tumor cells by attaching itself to sugar molecules. The bacterium has been implicated as a key player in spreading colon, esophageal, pancreatic, and breast cancers. It’s important to note that in healthy individuals, F. nucleatum seems to act as a harmless member of the greater microbial community, but in states of dysbiosis, poor dental hygiene, or in individuals with health conditions such as diabetes, the bacterium has a causal link to periodontitis, tonsillitis, appendicitis and preterm labor. It’s ability to wreak havoc on the body is well documented.
While many studies in the past have questioned whether F. nucleatum is simply associated with these cancers or if it plays a more active role in spreading the disease, three separate colon cancer studies from earlier this year found that it’s most likely the latter. The three studies found that F. nucleatum:
- invades cancer cells, resulting in a production of cytokines that promote the migration of cancerous cells
- triggers alterations in gene regulation that boosts the spread of cancer
- abundance in cancer tissue is directly associated with cancer spread
While these studies do not show the bacterium as a root cause of cancer, they do implicate F. nucleatum as a cause of cancer spread.
Takeaway: In our hopes to live as healthy and long as possible, and to escape such medical misfortunes as metastatic disease, you may be wondering what YOU can do to protect yourself from F. nucleatum going rogue and wandering about your tissues! The best answer is to put oral hygiene at the top of your self-care list. Also, practicing all the things we support here at Gutbliss to balance your microbiome and promote overall health are also extremely important: consume lots of plant fiber, avoid processed sugar, optimize your sleep, reduce stress, and spend lots of time out of doors.
As scientists continue to search for cancer treatments beyond chemotherapy (a therapy that is proving ineffective in some metastatic cancers), they are hopeful that these findings will introduce new therapeutic approaches to such a deadly disease.