The Microbiome-Estrogen Connection and Breast Cancer Risk

Cells. 2019 Dec 15;8(12):1642. doi: 10.3390/cells8121642.


The microbiome is undoubtedly the second genome of the human body and has diverse roles in health and disease. However, translational progress is limited due to the vastness of the microbiome, which accounts for over 3.3 million genes, whose functions are still unclear. Numerous studies in the past decade have demonstrated how microbiome impacts various organ-specific cancers by altering the energy balance of the body, increasing adiposity, synthesizing genotoxins and small signaling molecules, and priming and regulating immune response and metabolism of indigestible dietary components, xenobiotics, and pharmaceuticals. In relation to breast cancer, one of the most prominent roles of the human microbiome is the regulation of steroid hormone metabolism since endogenous estrogens are the most important risk factor in breast cancer development especially in postmenopausal women. Intestinal microbes encode enzymes capable of deconjugating conjugated estrogen metabolites marked for excretion, pushing them back into the enterohepatic circulation in a biologically active form. In addition, the intestinal microbes also break down otherwise indigestible dietary polyphenols to synthesize estrogen-like compounds or estrogen mimics that exhibit varied estrogenic potency. The present account discusses the potential role of gastrointestinal microbiome in breast cancer development by mediating metabolism of steroid hormones and synthesis of biologically active estrogen mimics.

Keywords: breast cancer; dysbiosis; hormone regulation; microbial metabolites; microbiome; obesity; oral microbiome; xenobiotics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adiposity / physiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / microbiology*
  • Dysbiosis / metabolism
  • Estrogens / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / physiology
  • Humans
  • Microbiota / physiology*
  • Obesity / microbiology
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Risk Factors


  • Estrogens