The microbiome and its potential as a cancer preventive intervention

Semin Oncol. 2016 Feb;43(1):97-106. doi: 10.1053/j.seminoncol.2015.09.001. Epub 2015 Sep 8.


It is becoming increasingly clear that microbiota inhabiting our bodies influence cancer predisposition and etiology. In addition to pathogens with oncogenic properties, commensal and symbiotic microbiota have tumor-suppressive properties. Diet and other environmental factors can modulate the abundance of certain members of microbial communities within the gastrointestinal tract and at other anatomical sites. Furthermore, some dietary factors are metabolized by commensal/symbiotic gut microbiota into bioactive food components believed to prevent cancer. For example, dietary fiber undergoes bacterial fermentation in the colon to yield butyrate, which is a short-chain fatty acid and histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitor that suppresses the viability and growth of colorectal cancer cell lines. A recent study using gnotobiotic mouse models demonstrates that fiber can protect against colorectal tumorigenesis in a microbiota- and butyrate-dependent manner that involves the Warburg effect. This and other examples suggest that some of the inter-individual variation observed in epidemiology and intervention studies that have investigated associations between diet and cancer risk might be explained by differences in microbiota among the participants. Data from basic research studies also support the idea that probiotics and prebiotics could be plausible chemoprevention strategies that may be utilized to a greater extent in the future.

Keywords: Butyrate; Gut microbiome; HDAC inhibitor.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Butyrates / metabolism*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Dietary Fiber / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Fiber / metabolism*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Microbial Interactions
  • Prebiotics
  • Probiotics


  • Butyrates
  • Dietary Fiber
  • Prebiotics