Alcohol Triggers Breast Cancer Gene
For years, scientists have believed that tens of thousands of cases of breast cancer in the U.S. and Europe are linked to drinking alcohol (in addition to alcohol posing an increased risk of cancer recurrence in women with early-stage breast cancer).
Now, a new study from the University of Houston, published in PLOS One, provides a direct link between alcohol, estrogen and a cancer-causing gene.
Researchers investigated alcohol's effects on growth factor and estrogen signaling. Additionally, they looked at gene regulatory networks that are involved in clinical outcomes in breast cancer patients, effects of alcohol on tamoxifen response and the role that alcohol-regulated genes play in breast cancer. Tamoxifen is a medication that is used to treat breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.
The study team established that alcohol increases estrogen-induced cell proliferation. Specifically, they discovered that alcohol promotes expression of a cancer-causing gene called BRAF -- even in the absence of estrogen -- and mimics and enhances estrogen's effects, increasing the risk of breast cancer.
They also found that alcohol weakened the ability of tamoxifen to suppress cancer cell growth.
More than 230,000 women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer this year; it’s one of the most common causes of cancer deaths for women. An estimated 50% of women with breast cancer drink at least some alcohol.