Cancer is a real curse on a person’s life and a constant battle. There are many victims: those affected by the pathology but also collateral victims. In order to cure them, therapeutic aids are applied. However, these can sometimes cause significant undesirable effects, making the life of patients even less pleasant. Strategies are then developed to improve their comfort. Could probiotics be one of them?
Cancer: when the cells go wild
Cancer is a scourge that continues to grow in our society. According to the WHO, nearly 10 million deaths are expected in 2020 (which is close to one in six), making cancer one of the main causes of death worldwide.
The disease is characterised by the uncontrolled multiplication and spread of one or more abnormal cells. These dysfunctional cells will then proliferate:
- Locally, where they form a tumour,
- Then affect the surrounding tissue,
- Then at a distance where they will form metastases.
All this is the result of a change in the DNA (and more specifically in a gene). The cells mutate and lose control of the cell cycle, apoptosis and DNA repair. This predisposes to the development of cancer.
A multifactorial disease
There is not one but many cancers. Their classification depends on the type of cell in which the first transformation occurred. It is therefore possible to distinguish lymphomas, sarcomas, carcinomas, etc. The organs most often affected are the breasts, lungs, prostate and colon or rectum.
Many factors can intervene in the genesis of this disease. But the 5 most common, causing almost a third of cancer deaths, are:
- A high body mass index,
- Low consumption of fruit and vegetables,
- Lack of physical exercise,
- High alcohol consumption.
But in addition to the behavioural and environmental risks, the individual and his or her history can also be held responsible.
Different treatments in the management of patients
As the symptoms are varied and diverse, depending among other things on the type of cancer, it is not possible to draw up an exhaustive list of these.
However, once the disease has been detected, a therapeutic strategy is put in place, depending on the tumour, but also on the patient’s profile. Generally, it involves several approaches, used successively or in combination.
The treatments are based on:
- Surgery: to remove the tumour;
- Radiotherapy: using ionising radiation to destroy the cancer cells;
- Chemotherapy: based on the administration of cytotoxic drugs to destroy tumour cells;
- Targeted therapies: specifically targeting certain molecules in the body, blocking the mechanisms that are essential for the development of cancer cells/tumour;
- Hormone therapy: blocking the synthesis of sex hormones that promote certain cancers;
- Immunotherapy: aimed at mobilising or strengthening the immune system to attack tumour cells;
Nevertheless, these treatments are heavy and not without consequences: undesirable effects can occur and alter the quality of life of patients. These include digestive and/or skin disorders, severe fatigue, a drop in white and red blood cells and platelets, lesions, etc. Supportive care is therefore offered as a complement to limit the effects of these side effects and thus improve their quality of life.
Probiotics, a providential help for cancer patients?
Probiotics, the beneficial microorganisms, are mainly known for their positive effects on digestion and immunity. But it turns out that their potential for action is much broader. Indeed, their impact on the intestinal microbiota (among others) goes far beyond the intestinal sphere: through various mechanisms of action, they can act on the brain, the joints, the intimate sphere, etc. They have been the subject of studies on various categories of diseases to validate / invalidate their benefits.
Probiotics have, for example, been tested in cancer patients. The results of the various trials (often randomised, placebo-controlled and double-blind) have revealed that these ferments have the capacity to:
- Positively modulate the composition of the intestinal microbiota
- Reduce the bacterial types associated with colon cancer;
- Maintain and strengthen the barrier effect;
- Reduce inflammation by acting on pro-inflammatory cytokines and zonulin;
- Improve the immune response of patients and reduce the concentration of pathogens;
- Decrease the incidence and duration of diarrhoea associated or not with radiotherapy and the use of anti-diarrhoeal drugs;
- Improve quality of life, pain and stool consistency;
- Reduce the length of hospitalisation in surgical patients and decrease the risk of post-operative complications.
Probiotics have the potential to support cancer sufferers, particularly by reducing the side effects experienced during background treatments. Further studies are needed to confirm these results, but the results of these various trials are promising.