Fermented milks, probiotic cultures, and colon cancer

Nutr Cancer. 2004;49(1):14-24. doi: 10.1207/s15327914nc4901_3.


Colorectal cancer (CRC) is a major cause of death from cancer in the Western world. Approximately 70% of CRC is associated with environmental factors, probably mainly the diet. There is interest in the potential protective role of fermented milks containing probiotic cultures against CRC. This article analyzes the existing data from human, animal, and in vitro studies that explore whether consumption of milks fermented with probiotic cultures could play a role in colon cancer risk reduction. Cohort studies have failed to detect significant effects, but most case-control studies favor a protective role of fermented milks against colon cancer. Interventional studies have shown a shift of intermediate markers of CRC risk in human subjects from a high- to low-risk pattern after ingestion of fermented milks or probiotics. Animal studies consistently show a reduction in chemically induced colorectal tumor incidence and aberrant crypt formation accompanying probiotic administration. In vitro studies also provide evidence of protection, and permit a better understanding of active compounds involved, and of the mechanisms underlying their anticarcinogenic effects. Probiotics may beneficially modulate several major intestinal functions: detoxification, colonic fermentation, transit, and immune status, which may accompany the development of colon cancer. Although the evidence is not conclusive and much further research is required, the data reviewed constitute a promising body of evidence supporting the protective role of milks fermented with probiotic cultures in colon cancer risk reduction.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cohort Studies
  • Colon / microbiology*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Cultured Milk Products*
  • Epidemiologic Studies
  • Humans
  • Probiotics* / administration & dosage
  • Probiotics* / therapeutic use
  • Risk