Microbes may hold key to detecting endometrial cancer

Volume 6, Issue 2, 2017


Differences in vaginal microbes could aid the development of early screening tools.

Photograph of Marina R. Walther-Antonio, Ph.D.

Marina R. Walther-Antonio, Ph.D.

Researchers at Mayo Clinic are studying vaginal microbes directly within the uterine environment to investigate how they might influence the development of endometrial cancer.

Results from the researchers' vaginal microbe study were published online Nov. 25, 2016, in the journal Genome Medicine.

"We set out to discover whether there is a microbiome component in the malignancy of tumors and if its appearance in patients diagnosed with the disease is distinguishable from that of patients without malignancy," said Marina R. Walther-Antonio, Ph.D., lead author of the published paper and a researcher in surgery, obstetrics and gynecology at Mayo Clinic's campus in Rochester, Minnesota.

Dr. Walther-Antonio and her colleagues found that the uterine microbiome of women with endometrial cancer is different from the uterine microbiome of women without endometrial cancer. They also found that the microbes present in the vaginal environment of women with endometrial cancer were different from the microbes present in the vaginal environment of women without endometrial cancer.

For the vaginal microbes study, Mayo Clinic researchers studied 31 Caucasian women undergoing hysterectomy. Of those, 10 women were diagnosed with a benign gynecologic condition, four women were diagnosed with endometrial hyperplasia and 17 were diagnosed with endometrial cancer.

The researchers are now seeking an ethnically diverse group of study participants to investigate whether the results extend to other populations.

"Further investigation is needed to better understand the role of the microbiome in the manifestation, cause or progression of endometrial cancer," Dr. Walther-Antonio said. "Because of the modifiable nature of the microbiome, our findings may hold promise in the development of strategies for endometrial cancer prevention, such as early screening tools."