The intestinal microbiota, gastrointestinal environment and colorectal cancer: a putative role for probiotics in prevention of colorectal cancer?

Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2011 Sep;301(3):G401-24. doi: 10.1152/ajpgi.00110.2011. Epub 2011 Jun 23.


Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, and, even though 5-15% of the total CRC cases can be attributed to individual genetic predisposition, environmental factors could be considered major factors in susceptibility to CRC. Lifestyle factors increasing the risks of CRC include elevated body mass index, obesity, and reduced physical activity. Additionally, a number of dietary elements have been associated with higher or lower incidence of CRC. In this context, it has been suggested that diets high in fruit and low in meat might have a protective effect, reducing the incidence of colorectal adenomas by modulating the composition of the normal nonpathogenic commensal microbiota. In addition, it has been demonstrated that changes in abundance of taxonomic groups have a profound impact on the gastrointestinal physiology, and an increasing number of studies are proposing that the microbiota mediates the generation of dietary factors triggering colon cancer. High-throughput sequencing and molecular taxonomic technologies are rapidly filling the knowledge gaps left by conventional microbiology techniques to obtain a comprehensive catalog of the human intestinal microbiota and their associated metabolic repertoire. The information provided by these studies will be essential to identify agents capable of modulating the massive amount of gut bacteria in safe noninvasive manners to prevent CRC. Probiotics, defined as "live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host" (219), are capable of transient modulation of the microbiota, and their beneficial effects include reinforcement of the natural defense mechanisms and protection against gastrointestinal disorders. Probiotics have been successfully used to manage infant diarrhea, food allergies, and inflammatory bowel disease; hence, the purpose of this review was to examine probiotic metabolic activities that may have an effect on the prevention of CRC by scavenging toxic compounds or preventing their generation in situ. Additionally, a brief consideration is given to safety evaluation and production methods in the context of probiotics efficacy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antimutagenic Agents / pharmacology
  • Bile / physiology
  • Carcinogens
  • Cell Adhesion
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / genetics
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / microbiology*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Diet
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / physiology
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Mucosa / physiology
  • Intestines / microbiology
  • Metagenome
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Probiotics / therapeutic use*


  • Antimutagenic Agents
  • Carcinogens