Probiotics are living microorganisms that provide a health benefit, and prebiotics are fibers that feed these friendly bacteria, mostly in your gut. These therapies, found in certain foods or as supplements, can manage gastrointestinal symptoms and some body terrainthe internal conditions of your body, including nutritional status, fitness, blood sugar balance, hormone balance, inflammation and more factors common in cancer, and they may lead to better recovery from surgery.

Probiotics and prebiotics at a glance

Probiotics are living microorganisms (bacteria and some yeasts) that, when consumed in sufficient numbers, can provide a health benefit. Some probiotics move the gut microbiota toward a healthy, balanced state. Probiotic organisms are found in yogurt and other fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, kimchi, or kombucha.

Prebiotics are fibers that feed the friendly bacteria in your gut. Most prebiotics are soluble fiber substances like inulin. Your helpful bacteria turn these prebiotic fibers into energy for your colon cells and support your immune function. Prebiotics are found in nutritional supplements or foods such as garlic, onions, bananas, whole oats, apples, and dandelion greens. 

Synbiotics are simply combinations of both prebiotics and probiotics.

Good evidence supports use of probiotics, sometimes with prebiotics, to manage gastrointestinal symptoms related to cancer treatments, and especially diarrhea. Research also finds less infection, shorter hospital stays, and other indicators of better recovery after surgery among people with gastrointestinal cancer, including colorectal cancer, treated with probiotics. Probiotics also show benefits for high blood sugar and inflammation.

Probiotics are most often used to influence your microbiome—your personal collection of microorganisms living on and within your body. Learn more about how your microbiome  influences cancer outcomes and side effects.

CancerChoices ratings for probiotics and prebiotics

We rate probiotics and prebiotics on seven attributes, with 0 the lowest rating and 5 the highest. We rate the strength of the evidence supporting the use of probiotics and prebiotics for a medical benefit, such as improving treatment outcomes or managing side effects.

See how we evaluate and rate complementary therapies ›

3

Improving treatment outcomes

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5

Optimizing your body terrain

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5

Managing side effects and promoting wellness

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4

Reducing cancer risk

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5

Use by integrative oncology experts

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4

Safety

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5

Affordability and access

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Keep reading about probiotics and prebiotics

Author

Nancy Hepp, MS

Lead Researcher and Program Manager
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Ms. Hepp is a researcher and communicator who has been writing and editing educational content on varied health topics for more than 20 years. She serves as lead researcher, program manager, and writer for CancerChoices. Her graduate work in research and cognitive psychology, her master’s degree in instructional design, and her certificate in web design have all guided her in writing and presenting information for a wide variety of audiences and uses. Nancy’s service as faculty development coordinator in the Department of Family Medicine at Wright State University also provided experience in medical research, plus insights into medical education and medical care from the professional’s perspective.

Nancy Hepp, MS Lead Researcher and Program Manager

Andrew Jackson, ND

Research Associate
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Andrew Jackson, ND, serves as a CancerChoices research associate. As a naturopathic physician practicing in Kirkland, Washington, he teaches critical evaluation of the medical literture at Bastyr University in Kenmore, Washington. His great appreciation of scientific inquiry and the scientific process has led him to view research with a critical eye.

Andrew Jackson, ND Research Associate

Reviewer

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS

Senior Clinical Consultant
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Laura Pole is senior clinical consultant for CancerChoices. Laura is an oncology clinical nurse specialist who has been providing integrative oncology clinical care, navigation, consultation, and education services for over 40 years. She is the co-creator and co-coordinator of the Integrative Oncology Navigation Training at Smith Center for Healing and the Arts in Washington, DC. Laura also manages the “Media Watch Cancer News That You Can Use” listserv for Smith Center/Commonweal. In her role as a palliative care educator and consultant, Laura has served as statewide Respecting Choices Faculty for the Virginia POST (Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment) Collaborative as well as provided statewide professional education on palliative and end-of-life care for the Virginia Association for Hospices and Palliative Care.

For CancerChoices, Laura curates content and research, networks with clinical and organizational partners, brings awareness and education of integrative oncology at professional and patient conferences and programs, and translates research into information relevant to the patient experience as well as clinical practice.

Laura sees her work with CancerChoices as a perfect alignment of all her passions, knowledge and skills in integrative oncology care. She is honored to serve you.

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS Senior Clinical Consultant

Last update: January 31, 2024

Last full literature review: November 2022

CancerChoices provides information about integrativein cancer care, a patient-centered approach combining the best of conventional care, self care, and evidence-informed complementary care in an integrated plan cancer care. We review complementaryin cancer care, complementary care involves the use of therapies intended to enhance or add to standard conventional treatments; examples include supplements, mind-body approaches such as yoga or psychosocialtherapy, and acupuncture therapies and self carelifestyle actions and behaviors that may impact cancer outcomes; examples include eating health-promoting foods, limiting alcohol, increasing physical activity, and managing stress practices to help patients and professionals explore and integrate the best combination of conventionalthe cancer care offered by conventionally trained physicians and most hospitals; examples are chemotherapy, surgery, and radiotherapy and complementary therapies and practices for each person.

Our staff have no financial conflicts of interest to declare. We receive no funds from any manufacturers or retailers gaining financial profit by promoting or discouraging therapies mentioned on this site.

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