The breast tissue microbiome, stroma, immune cells and breast cancer

Tina J. Hieken, Jun Chen, Beiyun Chen, Stephen Johnson, Tanya L. Hoskin, Amy C. Degnim, Marina R. Walther-Antonio, Nicholas Chia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Stromal and immune cell composition alterations in benign breast tissue associate with future cancer risk. Pilot data suggest the innate microbiome of normal breast tissue differs between women with and without breast cancer. Microbiome alterations might explain tissue microenvironment variations associated with disease status. Methods: Prospectively-collected sterile normal breast tissues from women with benign (n=16) or malignant (n=17) disease underwent 16SrRNA sequencing with Illumina MiSeq and Hybrid-denovo pipeline processing. Breast tissue was scored for fibrosis and fat percentages and immune cell infiltrates (lobulitis) classified as absent/mild/moderate/severe. Alpha and beta diversity were calculated on rarefied OTU data and associations analyzed with multiple linear regression and PERMANOVA. Results: Breast tissue stromal fat% was lower and fibrosis% higher in benign disease versus cancer (median 30% versus 60%, p=0.01, 70% versus 30%, p=0.002, respectively). The microbiome varied with stromal composition. Alpha diversity (Chao1) correlated with fat% (r=0.38, p=0.02) and fibrosis% (r=-0.32, p=0.05) and associated with different microbial populations as indicated by beta diversity metrics (weighted UniFrac, p=0.08, fat%, p=0.07, fibrosis%). Permutation testing with FDR control revealed taxa differences for fat% in Firmicutes, Bacilli, Bacillales, Staphylococcaceae and genus Staphylococcus, and fibrosis% in Firmicutes, Spirochaetes, Bacilli, Bacillales, Spirochaetales, Proteobacteria RF32, Sphingomonadales, Staphylococcaceae, and genera Clostridium, Staphylococcus, Spirochaetes, Actinobacteria Adlercreutzia. Moderate/severe lobulitis was more common in cancer (73%) than benign disease (13%), p=0.003, but no significant microbial associations were seen. Conclusion: These data suggest a link between breast tissue stromal alterations and its microbiome, further supporting a connection between the breast tissue microenvironment and breast cancer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100786
JournalNeoplasia (United States)
StatePublished - May 2022


  • Adipocytes
  • Bacteria
  • Breast neoplasms
  • Fibrosis
  • Microbiome
  • Tissue microenvironment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research


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