Link identified between cervical microbiome and cancer.

Cervical cancer is a cancerous growth situated at the entrance of a woman’s womb, otherwise known as the cervix. Importantly, this disease mainly affects sexually active females aged between 30 and 45. 

According to a 2012 study, Human papillomavirus (HPV) is responsible for 99 percent of all cervical cancer cases.  However, multiple studies show an increase in HPV detection in cervical intraepithelial neoplasms in individuals with depleted immune cell numbers. Therefore, the cervical immune microenvironment may be a factor in the suppression of cervical cancer. 

Now, a study from researchers led by the University of Nebraska–Lincoln shows a significant association between the composition of a woman’s cervical microbiome and the presence of pre-cancerous lesions on her cervix.  The team states their data suggests a greater influence of the bacterial microbiota on the outcome of HPV infection than previously thought.  The opensource study is published in the journal mBio.

Cervical cancer is widespread

Previous studies show cervical cancer is a devastating problem in Sub-Saharan Africa. Incidentally, this is where eight percent of the world’s women older than 15 years of age account for 14 percent of the cervical cancer cases and eighten percent of the cervical cancer deaths.

Subsequently, the burden of HPV-associated dysplasias in sub-Saharan Africa is influenced by human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), an autoimmune disease.  However, the role of the cervical bacterial microbiome in cervical cancer is not clear.  The current study collects cervical cytobrush samples from 144 Tanzanian women and performs deep sequencing of bacterial 16S rRNA genes. These are the genes commonly used in the study of bacterial phylogeny and taxonomy.

The current study utilizes deep sequencing, a way to genetically identify thousands of bacterial families all at once, to identify the bacteria present in samples obtained from 144 Tanzanian women. All of the women had undergone cervical cancer screenings between March 2015 and February 2016. 

Results show 126 women tested positive for Human HPV, forty-one women tested positive for HIV, and fifty women were diagnosed with high-grade pre-cancerous lesions.  Data findings show women with high-grade lesions had a more abundant and diverse microbial mix in their cervical microbiomes than women who presented with no lesions or mild lesions.

Results show HIV-positive patients had greater bacterial richness than HIV-negative patients.  Data findings show Mycoplasma bacteria, specifically, may help promote the growth of HPV-related lesions.

Cervical cancer & unprotected sex

The lab states, in particular, an abundance of Lactobacillus crispatus shows an inverse relationship with detectable or symptomatic HIV, HPV, or herpesvirus infection.  They go on to conclude this suggest other cervicovaginal microbes may be important in preventing or enhancing the acquisition and pathogenesis of such infections.

The team surmises their data shows Mycoplasma bacteria contribute to a cervical microbiome status which promotes HPV-related cervical lesions.  For the future, the researchers state although more research is needed, the findings suggest one-day cervical microbiota could be used for cancer screening and diagnosis. Furthermore, the data suggest cancer could also be treated or prevented with probiotics or antibiotics.

Source: University of Nebraska–Lincoln

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