Probiotics to prevent gastrointestinal toxicity from cancer therapy: an interpretive review and call to action

Curr Opin Support Palliat Care. 2015 Jun;9(2):157-62. doi: 10.1097/SPC.0000000000000134.


Purpose of review: There is currently an unmet need for agents that can prevent the gastrointestinal toxicity (mucositis and enteritis) associated with chemotherapy and radiation therapy of abdominal and pelvic cancers. Herein we provide an overview of how manipulation of the gut microbiota by probiotic administration affects these gastrointestinal symptoms. We focus this review on published human trials and also provide suggestions on how the field can move forward.

Recent findings: Several clinical trials of varying design, patient populations and probiotic products have been reported. Lactobacillus probiotics of adequate dosage demonstrate a potential to reduce gastrointestinal toxicity when administered prophylactically. Common study limitations prevent the widespread adoption of this practice at this point but are informative for rational design of future trials.

Summary: No single probiotic strain or product has emerged from human clinical trials for this indication. Further human studies are required to address limitations in the current literature. Preclinical model data should be used to inform the rational design of these new clinical trials to adequately address this important question.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Neoplasms / complications
  • Abdominal Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Abdominal Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / immunology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Enteritis / etiology
  • Enteritis / microbiology
  • Enteritis / physiopathology
  • Enteritis / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Lactobacillus / immunology*
  • Lactobacillus / physiology
  • Microbiota / drug effects
  • Microbiota / radiation effects
  • Mucositis / etiology
  • Mucositis / microbiology
  • Mucositis / physiopathology
  • Mucositis / prevention & control*
  • Pelvic Neoplasms / complications
  • Pelvic Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Pelvic Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • Probiotics / therapeutic use*
  • Radiotherapy / adverse effects*


  • Antineoplastic Agents