Monitoring Microbiomes Could Reduce Risk of Infection in Cancer Patients

Significant decrease found in oral and intestinal microbial diversity during chemotherapy.

Significant decrease found in oral and intestinal microbial diversity during chemotherapy.

Scientists have recently revealed that a patient’s microbial diversity can be linked to risk of infection during induction chemotherapy, even before cancer treatment begins.

Jessica Galloway-Peña, PhD, fellow in the Department of Infectious Diseases, Infection Control and Employee Health at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and colleagues showed that the disruption of the microbiome by illness or through the administration of treatment can often lead to negative side effects for patients, particularly in immunocompromised cancer patients with an increased probability for infectious complications.

The microbiome encompasses all of the microscopic organisms present in association with the human body. Many microorganisms live peaceably within their human hosts, as well as living in equilibrium with other microorganisms in order to provide functions crucial to human survival and well-being.

“We found the baseline microbial diversities from stool samples were significantly lower in patients that developed infections during chemotherapy compared to those that did not,” Galloway-Peña said. “Additionally, there is a significant decrease in oral and intestinal microbial diversity over the course of chemotherapy.”

In addition to the decreased microbial diversity, researchers observed an increased presence of specific groups of microorganisms known to cause infection. In those cases, patients’ intestinal microbiomes would be taken over by those infection-causing microorganisms.

Patients that were able to maintain a healthy microbiome remained infection free in the 90 days post chemotherapy. Furthermore, it was found that certain antibiotics called carbapenems were responsible for the most significant decreases in microbial diversity.

“This study shows that in the future doctors could use microbiome sampling in order to predict the chance of infectious complications during chemotherapy, and that monitoring of a patient’s microbiome during induction chemotherapy could also predict their risk for microbial related illness during subsequent treatments,” Galloway-Peña said.

Moreover, these patients receive high amounts of antibiotics, approximately 5 different antibiotics were received per patient in this particular study, due to the high susceptibility to infection.

Monitoring the microbiome could potentially decrease the overutilization of antimicrobials by placing patients into a low and high risk group, as well as be used to predict forthcoming infections.