Gut bacteria play a leading role in how well cancer drugs work. Certain gut bacteria (Bifidobacterium specifically) boost people’s response to cancer treatment while others can make immunotherapy ineffective. In addition, previous studies show that those with antibiotic exposure are more likely to have a poor response rate to immunotherapy. Researchers are now testing how to manipulate gut bacteria in immunotherapy “non-responders”- using methods such as fecal microbiota transplantation, robust oral probiotics, and other medications based on the interplay between gut bacteria and the immune system. While manipulating the intestinal microbiome to treat cancer is an exciting proposition, some scientists are wary. Altering the gut microbiome can lead to harmful side effects, including other health problems. Some scientists also feel that it’s too early – we just don’t know enough about the microbiome: “A lot of findings [in microbiome research] have proven to either not stand up or be considerably more complicated than they first appeared.” Nature
→Takeaway: The gut microbiome is an important player in both preventing cancer and improving the success rate of cancer treatment. The more balanced your gut microbiome, the better your chances!