Cancer is a multi-step process that can be viewed as a cellular and immunological shift away from homeostasis in response to selected infectious agents, mutations, diet, and environmental carcinogens. Homeostasis, which contributes importantly to the definition of “health,” is maintained, in part by the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which are metabolites of specific gut bacteria. Alteration in the composition of gut bacteria, or dysbiosis, is often a major risk factor for some two dozen tumor types. Dysbiosis is often characterized by diminished levels of SCFAs in the stool, and the presence of a “leaky gut,” permitting the penetration of microbes and microbial derived molecules (e.g., lipopolysaccharides) through the gut wall, thereby triggering chronic inflammation. SCFAs attenuate inflammation by inhibiting the activation of nuclear factor kappa B, by decreasing the expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor alpha, by stimulating the expression of anti-inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin-10 and transforming growth factor beta, and by promoting the differentiation of naïve T cells into T regulatory cells, which down-regulate immune responses by immunomodulation. SCFA function epigenetically by inhibiting selected histone acetyltransferases that alter the expression of multiple genes and the activity of many signaling pathways (e.g., Wnt, Hedgehog, Hippo, and Notch) that contribute to the pathogenesis of cancer. SCFAs block cancer stem cell proliferation, thereby potentially delaying or inhibiting cancer development or relapse by targeting genes and pathways that are mutated in tumors (e.g., epidermal growth factor receptor, hepatocyte growth factor, and MET) and by promoting the expression of tumor suppressors (e.g., by up-regulating PTEN and p53). When administered properly, SCFAs have many advantages compared to probiotic bacteria and fecal transplants. In carcinogenesis, SCFAs are toxic against tumor cells but not to surrounding tissue due to differences in their metabolic fate. Multiple hallmarks of cancer are also targets of SCFAs. These data suggest that SCFAs may re-establish homeostasis without overt toxicity and either delay or prevent the development of various tumor types.
Feitelson, M.A., Arzumanyan, A., Medhat, A. et al. Short-chain fatty acids in cancer pathogenesis. Cancer Metastasis Rev (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10555-023-10117-y