Research Article

The human tumor microbiome is composed of tumor type–specific intracellular bacteria

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  29 May 2020:
Vol. 368, Issue 6494, pp. 973-980
DOI: 10.1126/science.aay9189

Profiling tumor bacteria

Bacteria are well-known residents in human tumors, but whether their presence is advantageous to the tumors or to the bacteria themselves has been unclear. As an initial step toward addressing this question, Nejman et al. produced an exhaustive catalog of the bacteria present in more than 1500 human tumors representing seven different tumor types (see the Perspective by Atreya and Turnbaugh). They found that the bacteria within tumors were localized within both cancer cells and immune cells and that the bacterial composition varied according to tumor type. Certain biologically plausible associations were identified. For example, breast cancer subtypes characterized by increased oxidative stress were enriched in bacteria that produce mycothiol, which can detoxify reactive oxygen species.

Science, this issue p. 973; see also p. 938


Bacteria were first detected in human tumors more than 100 years ago, but the characterization of the tumor microbiome has remained challenging because of its low biomass. We undertook a comprehensive analysis of the tumor microbiome, studying 1526 tumors and their adjacent normal tissues across seven cancer types, including breast, lung, ovary, pancreas, melanoma, bone, and brain tumors. We found that each tumor type has a distinct microbiome composition and that breast cancer has a particularly rich and diverse microbiome. The intratumor bacteria are mostly intracellular and are present in both cancer and immune cells. We also noted correlations between intratumor bacteria or their predicted functions with tumor types and subtypes, patients’ smoking status, and the response to immunotherapy.

View Full Text

Stay Connected to Science