What if a substance was found that normalizes out-of-control cell growth? The result could be a way to treat and prevent cancer. And a new study offers hope that discovery may have already been made. Scientists from the University of Chicago have just published groundbreaking research in the journal Cell which concludes a powerful compound exists that can restore a healthy balance to cell processes. It’s not a new chemotherapy agent or drug but one derived from nature — retinoic acid, a derivative of vitamin A.
According to the American Cancer Society, estrogen fuels the growth of two out of three breast cancers. The female hormone can spur on cancer by altering the expression of certain genes, resulting in breast cells that become malignant and proliferate. The University of Chicago study found that retinoic acid can also alter these same estrogen-sensitive genes. But instead of causing cells to grow without restraint, a hallmark of cancer, retinoic acid restored normal balance to the cells and inhibited their growth.
“This work reveals important insights on the interplay between vitamin A and estrogen action,” said Myles Brown, MD, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, in a statement to the media. “These insights will hopefully lead to new approaches for the prevention and treatment of the most common form of breast cancer.”
Retinoic acid has already demonstrated cancer fighting effects in previous studies and it is currently used to treat a rare form of leukemia. In addition, earlier research has associated retinoic acid with the halting of breast cancer cell proliferation.
For the new study, Kevin White, PhD, professor of human genetics and director of the Institute for Genomics and System Biology at the University of Chicago, and colleagues focused on documenting cell receptors for the vitamin A derivative. They used a process dubbed ChIP-chip analysis that combines chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP), which locates where the retinoic acid receptors are bound to the genome, with micro-array gene-chip analysis, which measures the expression levels of specific genes.
This merging of techniques allowed the scientists to map out the complete genetic effects of retinoic acid and its receptors in a cell line provided by patients who had estrogen-fueled breast cancers. The results showed that 39 percent of the genomic regions bound by the estrogen receptor known as alpha overlapped with the estrogen receptors bound by retinoic acid.What’s more, they discovered that estrogen and retinoic acids receptors often competed to activate or repress many of the same genes. For example, estrogen increased expression of the same 139 genes that retinoic repressed and retinoic acid activated 185 genes that estrogen repressed. For approximately140 genes, estrogen and retinoic acid had the same effect.
So what does all this mean? As the scientists explained in their press statement, they now have evidence that estrogen and retinoic acid carry on a kind of “cross talk”. So, although they can have opposite effects, certain estrogen and retinoic acid receptors on cells activate each other and normalize each other. That provides what the researchers call “an additional level of control for achieving a balanced regulation of expression.”
One of the most effective naturally occurring weapons against cancer is, like most healthy things, something many of us are not getting enough of. The mineral selenium has been shown in multiple studies to be an effective tool in warding off various types of cancer, including breast, esophageal, stomach, prostate, liver and bladder cancers. Not many people get the recommended dose of 200 micrograms a day. Most Americans only get between 60 and 100 micrograms of selenium daily from dietary sources, according to the Life Extension Foundation’s Disease Prevention and Treatment. That means daily supplements might be worth considering.
Today, research shows selenium, especially when used in conjunction with vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene, works to block chemical reactions that create free radicals in the body (which can damage DNA and cause degenerative change in cells, leading to cancer). Selenium also helps stop damaged DNA molecules from reproducing. In other words, selenium acts to prevent tumors from developing. “It contributes towards the death of cancerous and pre-cancer cells. Their death appears to occur before they replicate, thus helping stop cancer before it gets started,” says Dr. James Howenstine in A Physician’s Guide to Natural Health Products That Work
Breast cancer rates are four to five times lower in China than in most Western countries, a fact widely attributed to a different lifestyle. Some foods commonly eaten as part of the traditional Chinese diet can reduce a woman’s risk of breast cancer by as much as 90 percent, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Western Australia in Perth, and published in the International Journal of Cancer. Researchers compared consumption of mushrooms and green tea between two groups of Chinese women, one with breast cancer and one without. They found that women who ate at least 10 grams (0.35 ounces) of fresh mushrooms per day had a 64 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer than those who did not eat as much. Those who also regularly drank green tea reduced their risk by a total of 90 percent. Dried mushrooms also reduced breast cancer risk, although they were not as effective as fresh ones.
Previous research has supported the cancer-fighting properties of both mushrooms and green tea. Mushrooms are believed to suppress tumor growth and boost the immune system, and may also block production of the hormone estrogen. Green tea contains polyphenols, which have been shown to remove free radicals from the blood and hamper breast tumor development. The protective benefit of mushrooms and green tea remained significant even after researchers adjusted for other breast cancer risk factors, including weight, exercise, smoking and education level.