Researchers ID microbiome signature in endometrial cancer

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Their study shows that postmenopause, obesity and high vaginal pH alter the microbiome and increase risk.

A study by Mayo Clinic researchers published in the journal Scientific Reports has identified a microbiome signature associated with endometrial cancer, which is in part promoted by postmenopause.

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

"The goal of our study was to better understand how endometrial cancer risk factors alter the reproductive tract microbiome and endometrial cancer risk," said Marina R. Walther-Antonio, Ph.D., lead author of the study and a consultant in surgical research at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Endometrial cancer — cancer of the lining of the uterus — is the most common gynecological malignancy in the United States, Dr. Walther-Antonio said. In addition, she said, endometrial cancer incidence rates are on the rise in the Western world, suggesting that alterations in environmental factors such as diet, lifestyle and the vaginal microbiome may be important drivers. "If the microbiome does play a role in endometrial cancer, beyond being a marker for it, our research could have important implications for prevention," she said.

The established role of the vaginal microbiome as a key factor in vaginal and obstetric health, along with vaginal microbiome differences found among various ethnicities, adds to the importance of exploring the microbiome in endometrial cancer, she said.

Dr. Walther-Antonio and other researchers are investigating the role of the microbiome in endometrial cancer and how to prevent the actions of harmful bacteria.

Overall, the team verified the main known risk factors for endometrial cancer (postmenopausal status and obesity) and identified high vaginal pH as an additional factor associated with patients with endometrial cancer.

"We have determined that all of these factors impact the reproductive tract microbiome, further identified postmenopause as a key factor, and are looking ahead to discuss potential translational applications of this knowledge, which may bring new approaches to address current health disparities in endometrial cancer," Dr. Walther-Antonio said.


This article was originally published in Forefront, Mayo Clinic Cancer Center's online magazine, which ceased publication in December 2020.