The intestinal microbiome, weight, and metabolic changes in women treated by adjuvant chemotherapy for breast and gynecological malignancies

BMC Med. 2020 Oct 21;18(1):281. doi: 10.1186/s12916-020-01751-2.


Background: Adjuvant chemotherapy induces weight gain, glucose intolerance, and hypertension in about a third of women. The mechanisms underlying these events have not been defined. This study assessed the association between the microbiome and weight gain in patients treated with adjuvant chemotherapy for breast and gynecological cancers.

Methods: Patients were recruited before starting adjuvant therapy. Weight and height were measured before treatment and 4-6 weeks after treatment completion. Weight gain was defined as an increase of 3% or more in body weight. A stool sample was collected before treatment, and 16S rRNA gene sequencing was performed. Data regarding oncological therapy, menopausal status, and antibiotic use was prospectively collected. Patients were excluded if they were treated by antibiotics during the study. Fecal transplant experiments from patients were conducted using Swiss Webster germ-free mice.

Results: Thirty-three patients were recruited; of them, 9 gained 3.5-10.6% of baseline weight. The pretreatment microbiome of women who gained weight following treatment was significantly different in diversity and taxonomy from that of control women. Fecal microbiota transplantation from pretreatment samples of patients that gained weight induced metabolic changes in germ-free mice compared to mice transplanted with pretreatment fecal samples from the control women.

Conclusion: The microbiome composition is predictive of weight gain following adjuvant chemotherapy and induces adverse metabolic changes in germ-free mice, suggesting it contributes to adverse metabolic changes seen in patients. Confirmation of these results in a larger patient cohort is warranted.

Keywords: Adjuvant chemotherapy; Cancer; Germ-free mice; Microbiome; Weight gain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Breast Neoplasms / complications*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Chemotherapy, Adjuvant / adverse effects*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / genetics*
  • Genital Neoplasms, Female / complications*
  • Genital Neoplasms, Female / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Middle Aged
  • Weight Gain / drug effects*
  • Young Adult