Oral and intravenous iron therapy differentially alter the on- and off-tumor microbiota in anemic colorectal cancer patients

Oliver Phipps, Hafid O. Al-Hassi, Mohammed N. Quraishi, Edward A. Dickson, Jonathan Segal, Helen Steed, Aditi Kumar, Austin G. Acheson, Andrew D. Beggs, Matthew J. Brookes

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Iron deficiency anemia is a common complication of colorectal cancer and may require iron therapy. Oral iron can increase the iron available to gut bacteria and may alter the colonic microbiota. We performed an intervention study to compare oral and intravenous iron therapy on the colonic tumor-associated (on-tumor) and paired non-tumor-associated adjacent (off-tumor) microbiota. Anemic patients with colorectal adenocarcinoma received either oral ferrous sulphate (n = 16) or intravenous ferric carboxymaltose (n = 24). On- and off-tumor biopsies were obtained post-surgery and microbial profiling was performed using 16S ribosomal RNA analysis. Off-tumor α- and β-diversity were significantly different between iron treatment groups. No differences in on-tumor diversity were observed. Off-tumor microbiota of oral iron-treated patients showed higher abundances of the orders Clostridiales, Cytophagales, and Anaeroplasmatales compared to intravenous iron-treated patients. The on-tumor microbiota was enriched with the orders Lactobacillales and Alteromonadales in the oral and intravenous iron groups, respectively. The on- and off-tumor microbiota associated with intravenous iron-treated patients infers increased abundances of enzymes involved in iron sequestration and anti-inflammatory/oncogenic metabolite production, compared to oral iron-treated patients. Collectively, this suggests that intravenous iron may be a more appropriate therapy to limit adverse microbial outcomes compared to oral iron.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1341
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2021


  • 16S rRNA
  • anemia
  • colorectal cancer
  • gut microbiome
  • iron deficiency
  • iron supplementation
  • tumor microbiota


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