Skip to main page content
Access keys NCBI Homepage MyNCBI Homepage Main Content Main Navigation
. 2019 Mar;8(1):42-51.
doi: 10.1007/s13668-019-0257-2.

The Role of the Microbiome in Cancer Initiation and Progression: How Microbes and Cancer Cells Utilize Excess Energy and Promote One Another's Growth

Free PMC article

The Role of the Microbiome in Cancer Initiation and Progression: How Microbes and Cancer Cells Utilize Excess Energy and Promote One Another's Growth

Corrie M Whisner et al. Curr Nutr Rep. .
Free PMC article


Purpose of review: We use an ecological lens to understand how microbes and cancer cells coevolve inside the ecosystems of our bodies. We describe how microbe-cancer cell interactions contribute to cancer progression, including cooperation between microbes and cancer cells. We discuss the role of the immune system in preventing this apparent 'collusion' and describe how microbe-cancer cell interactions lead to opportunities and challenges in treating cancer.

Recent findings: Microbiota influence many aspects of our health including our cancer risk. Since both microbes and cancer cells rely on incoming resources for their survival and replication, excess energy and nutrient input from the host can play a role in cancer initiation and progression. Certain microbes enhance cancer cell fitness by promoting proliferation and protecting cancer cells from the immune system. How diet influences these interactions remains largely unknown but recent evidence suggests a role for nutrients across the cancer continuum.

Keywords: Caloric restriction; Cancer; Cell proliferation; Diet; Ecology; Immune system; Inflammation; Metastasis; Microbe; Microbiome; Microbiota; Neoplasms; Neoplastic processes; Nutrition; Western diet.

Conflict of interest statement

Conflict of Interest

Corrie M. Whisner has received compensation from Ardent Mills LLC for service as a consultant and participation on a Scientific Advisory Board.

C. Athena Aktipis is supported by National Institutes of Health grant U54 CA217376 (to the Arizona Cancer and Evolution Center); however, this grant was not used to fund efforts in the preparation of this article.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.


Fig. 1
Fig. 1
Important metabolites and associated mechanisms that promote and inhibit the collusion of gut microbes and cancer cells. LPS, lipopolysaccharide; ROS, reactive oxygen species; RNS, reactive nitrogen species; SCFA, short-chain fatty acids

Similar articles

See all similar articles

Cited by 3 articles


    1. Siegel RL, Miller KD, Jemal A. Cancer Statistics, 2017. CA Cancer J Clin. 2017;67(1):7–30. - PubMed
    1. Cancer Statistics. National Cancer Institute. Published April 2, 2015. Accessed September 8, 2018.
    1. Clemente JC, Ursell LK, Parfrey LW, Knight R. The impact of the gut microbiota on human health: an integrative view. Cell. 2012;148(6):1258–1270. - PMC - PubMed
    1. Sender R, Fuchs S, Milo R. Revised estimates for the number of human and bacteria cells in the body. PLoS Biol. 2016;14(8):e1002533. - PMC - PubMed
    1. Qin J, Li R, Raes J, et al. A human gut microbial gene catalogue established by metagenomic sequencing. Nature. 2010;464(7285):59–65. - PMC - PubMed

Publication types

MeSH terms

LinkOut - more resources