Why Prebiotics Might Help During & After Cancer Treatment

“Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.” – Hippocrates


By:  Anne Mercer Larson, B.A., M.O.B., Prebiotin Director of Strategic Initiatives, Marketing & Public Relations
Date updated: October 9, 2018


Carefully Considering What You Eat May Help You Through Cancer Treatment and Beyond

With National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in full swing, there’s no better time to take a hard look at how treatment techniques during and after cancer have evolved and, in particular, how prebiotics may help.

Cancer-related deaths are estimated to reach 609,640 people this year (2018), while an estimated 1,735,350 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States, according to National Cancer Institute statistics. 1  The most common cancers are (in order): breast cancer, lung and bronchus cancer, prostate cancer, colon and rectum cancer, melanoma of the skin, bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, kidney cancers.

Breast cancer alone will claim the lives of about 40,920 women in the U.S. in 2018, while an estimated 266,120 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in American women, along with 63,960 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer.2

Although a man’s lifetime risk for breast cancer is much lower—about 1 in 1,000, (in women the risk is 1 in 8), men are not totally immune from the disease: about 2,550 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in men in 2018.2

In Search of More Effective Treatments

While advancements in surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy have been beneficial for many patients, and more patients are now screened and are therefore treated at earlier stages of disease, death rates for most cancers remain high, and adverse side effects from treatments still persist.

In the search for more effective treatments with fewer devastating side effects, researchers and other experts have been paying more attention to the functional role of good bacteria in the gut microbiome as it relates to cancer. Prebiotics and probiotics serve as the building blocks for a healthy gut and have proven useful as an adjunct therapy to cancer treatments.

Some Warning Signs of Breast Cancer

Prebiotics and Chemotherapy

One of the common consequences of chemotherapy is that ulcerative lesions may develop along the digestive tract. Chemotherapy can also disrupt the bacterial balance in the gut microbiome.

In an article in The Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, scientists explore the therapeutic potential of prebiotic fiber for reducing the severity of chemotherapy-induced lesions (or mucositis). The authors write:

“Mucositis, characterized by ulcerative lesions along the alimentary tract, is a common consequence of many chemotherapy regimens. Chemotherapy negatively disrupts the intestinal microbiota, resulting in increased numbers of potentially pathogenic bacteria, such as Clostridia and Enterobacteriaceae, and decreased numbers of “beneficial” bacteria, such as Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria… Prebiotics are indigestible compounds, commonly oligosaccharides, which seek to reverse chemotherapy-induced intestinal dysbiosis through selective colonization of the intestinal microbiota by probiotic bacteria.”3

The authors consider taking prebiotics a potential therapeutic approach to bringing the gut microbiome back into balance.

Keep in mind that more than 70% of your entire immune system lives in your gut!  Strengthening your immune system is vital to helping your body’s natural defense mechanisms protect you.

Prebiotics and Cancer Cell Suicide

Another study links taking prebiotic fiber to increased cancer cell death. Researchers found that as prebiotics are fermented by the bacteria in the colon, they produce desirable short chain fatty acids (SCFA), which are part of a healthy microbiome. High levels of these acids, especially butyrate, have been linked to cancer cell apoptosis, or cell suicide.4

Prebiotics for Post-Treatment IBS

Another common side effect post cancer treatment, especially after chemotherapy, is irritable bowel syndrome (or IBS). Patients may experience abnormal patterns of bowel contraction leading to abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, and bloating. Prebiotic fiber can help to fertilize the beneficial bacteria that strengthen the bowel walls, improve mineral absorption and regularity, and help to reduce these symptoms.

If you have IBS and are on the FODMAP diet, it is important to discuss supplements, including prebiotic fiber, with your physician. If you decide to incorporate prebiotic fiber into your diet, it is important to introduce it extremely slowly to minimize disruption in the colon.

Improving Efficacy of Treatments

In a 2017 article in Nature Reviews Cancer, researchers have found that the type of bacteria in your gut can determine your response to cancer therapy—and even your susceptibility to toxic side effects. The authors discuss the possibility of targeting the microbiota to improve anti-cancer efficacy while preventing toxicity.5

Re-Establishing Gut Health

To re-establish a healthy gut, you can eat more foods rich in prebiotic fiber, including chicory root, oatmeal, flax, barley, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, berries and other fruits, and onions. If you are not able to eat as much prebiotic fiber as you like, Prebiotin® can help you easily reach your prebiotic fiber goal.

Since foods with probiotic bacteria are also helpful in combating cancer growth,6 yogurt, fermented milk (kefir), buttermilk, miso, tempeh and certain soy drinks, fermented vegetables including kimchi and sauerkraut, certain soft cheeses, and fermented black tea (Kombucha) can also be beneficial.

Prebiotics Could Help…

With all of these benefits, you may want to consider taking a prebiotic supplement to support your efforts to fight cancer and stay healthy. Taking a quality prebiotic supplement, backed by sound science, is an easy way of making sure you have enough prebiotic fiber to feed beneficial bacteria in your gut microbiome.

circle of people celebrating breast cancer awareness

As one researcher notes:

“The microbiota is also involved in the initiation, progression and dissemination of cancer both at epithelial barriers and in sterile tissues.” 5

Treat your gut microbiome well, and you will reap many healing benefits.

A Tip From A Breast Cancer Survivor:

Always eat before your chemotherapy treatment. However, don’t eat any foods you really like! The reason is that whatever food you choose, may forever be associated with your treatment.  No one told me, so before my first treatment, I went to my favorite deli and had my favorite sour cream, salmon, and onion omelet. Now it makes me nauseous, even 15 years after treatment, to even think about eating one. Darn!

My solution?  After that lesson, I chose foods that were ones that I wanted to give up or avoid, like a big fast-food cheeseburger and fries! I won’t name a particular chain, but that temptation is pretty much over. – Anne Mercer Larson, B.A., M.O.B., Prebiotin Director of Strategic Initiatives, Marketing & Public Relations

For more information about Anne’s experience with breast cancer, read her blog, “Are You One? National Cancer Survivors Day June 3.”
For more information about how your diet can impact cancer, read our blog, Breast Cancer Awareness & The Gut Microbiome: Fight Back With Food!”

We want to hear from you! Share your stories, tips, and advice with us on how Prebiotin® Prebiotic Fiber has changed your life for the better.

Reminder: Please work with your oncology specialist to ensure that any supplements you take are appropriate for your cancer type, and will not conflict with any medications or treatments prescribed.


  1. NCI Cancer Statistics
  2. S. Breast Cancer Statistics
  3. Prebiotics: A Potential Treatment Strategy for the Chemotherapy-damaged Gut?.
  4. Butyrate-induced apoptosis in HCT116 colorectal cancer cells includes induction of a cell stress response
  5. Microbiota: a key orchestrator of cancer therapy
  6. Role of probiotics, prebiotics and synbiotics in chemoprevention for colorectal cancer
  7. Can a high-fiber diet lead to a better immunotherapy response?

Additional Breast Cancer Resources

[For additional resources, please read Breast Cancer Awareness & The Gut Microbiome: Fight Back With Food!”]

Prebiotin® is not intended to treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This website does not diagnose illnesses.

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