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Overweight? You Might Be At Risk Of Breast Cancer

Over the years, obesity has been established to be a risk factor for breast cancer, but how exactly does excess weight facilitate the disease? A new research seeking to answer this question has shed some light, revealing the process by which excess weight significantly boosts the growth of breast cancer cells.

By examining the breast cancer tissues of mice and human, researchers noticed an upsurge in blood levels of specific cytokines (proteins secreted by immune cells) that limit the activities of an enzyme called acetyl-CoA-carboxylase 1 (ACC1).

This then leads to a buildup of a fatty acid precursor known as acetyl-CoA, which increases the metastatic capability of breast cancer cells. The metastatic capability is the ability of breast cancer cells to spread to other parts of the body.

Fascinatingly, the team discovered that the secretion of ACC1-inhibiting cytokines was considerably higher in the breast cancer tissue obtained from patients who were obese.

Study co-leader Dr. Stephan Herzig, director of the Institute for Diabetes and Cancer at Helmholtz Zentrum München and a professor of molecular metabolic control at Technische Universität München in Germany, and colleagues recently reported their discoveries in the journal Cell Metabolism.

Cancer cells can spread throughout the body

According to study, breast cancer is the second most common cancer to affect women in the United States, just trailing behind skin cancer. This year, around 252,710 new cases have been predicted to be diagnosed in U.S. women, and about 40,610 women will reportedly die from the disease.

The vast majority of breast cancer deaths are caused by a process called metastasis, in which breast cancer cells disperse to other parts of the body, such as the bones and lungs.

Obesity and breast cancer

As stated earlier, excess weight or obesity is a well-established risk factor for breast cancer. In fact, after going through the stage of menopause, women who are overweight are 20 to 40% more prone to the development of breast cancer than women who are of a healthy weight.

Researchers say that the bacterial buildup of breast tissue could stimulate the growth of breast cancer. However, the precise techniques underlying the relationship between breast cancer and obesity have been uncertain. In a bid to find out more, Dr. Herzig and colleagues examined the activity of the enzyme ACC1 in mouse-derived breast cancer cell lines, as well as in breast tissue gotten from patients that have metastatic breast cancer.

Previous research showed that ACC1, which plays a significant role in the synthesis of fatty acids, may be linked to cancer metastasis.

Obesity increases cytokine release

The investigation revealed that metastatic breast cancer cells have reduced levels of ACC1 when compared to healthy cells, especially among subjects that are overweight. The decrease in ACC1 levels leads to a buildup of acetyl-CoA. The accommodation of acetyl-CoA then alters transcription factors or proteins that regulate gene expression in a way that facilitates breast cancer metastasis.

Additional investigation showed that excess weight could lead to an increase in the release of two cytokines (called leptin) thereby transforming growth factor beta, into the bloodstream. These cytokines are known to inhibit ACC1 in breast cancer cells.

The researchers then used an antibody to serve as a block to a pathway linked with leptin secretion in an individual’s breast cancer cell lines, which, in turn, prevents ACC1 inhibition. They discovered that this stopped the cancer cells from metastasizing. Judging by their results, the examiners believe that they may have just unraveled a prospective new treatment for breast cancer.

Speaking on the benefits of the newly discovered therapy and how it works, Dr. Stephan Herzig said the following: “Blocking the signaling pathways and switching off the metastasis-related genes could be a therapeutic target. As part of the so-called neoadjuvant therapy, the risk of metastases or the recurrence of tumors could be reduced prior to the surgical removal of the tumor.”

All we have to do now is keep our fingers crossed as if this new therapy to treat breast cancer proves to be successful, the number of this year’s predicted breast cancer cases and deaths from breast cancer would drastically reduce. Not to talk of the numerous benefits it would have on the future of the country and, in extension, the world.

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