Breast cancer

15 October 2008

Nicotine linked to breast cancer

A new study suggests a possible role for nicotine in breast tumour development and metastases.

A new study suggests a possible role for nicotine in breast tumour development and metastases.

The study, conducted by researchers at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre, is among the first to explore the effects of nicotine on mammary cells.

The study was published in Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

"Although numerous studies indicate the role of nicotine exposure in tumour promotion, little is known about the effect of nicotine on breast tumour development, especially on the metastatic process of breast cancer," said lead author Chang Yan Chen.

Potentially increases cell growth
Through a series of in vitro tests Chen and her team of researchers determined that breast epithelial-like MCF10A cells and cancerous MCF7 cells both express several subunits of nAChR (nicotine receptor), that when bound, initiate a signalling process, potentially increasing cell growth and migration.

"The best known role of nAChR is in the nerve system," Chen said. "Although cells from various tissue origins express different subunits of nAChR, we know very little about the functions of nAChR in non-neuronal cells and tissues, in particular in mammary cells."

"We were able to determine that mammary cells express different subunits of nAChR and that nicotine, possibly through perturbing cell cycle checkpoints, potentiates tumourigenesis in mammary cancer-prone or cancer cells," Chen said.

Findings confirmed
In vivo studies confirmed these findings. When injected into the tail of a mouse the cancerous MCF7 cells migrated to the lungs.

From in vivo and in vitro studies, it indicates that nicotine is not a conventional carcinogen, but rather it combines with other yet to be determined factors to enable tumourigenesis.

"In vitro and in vivo tests showed that no metastasis occurs when the administration of nicotine alone," said Chen. "At this point we can only suggest that nicotine potentiates the growth-related process."

Chen hopes to conduct more studies, in particular under the genetic backgrounds with loss or defect of different tumour suppressors, to further explore the effects of nicotine in relation to first- and second-hand exposure, on breast cancer initiation and development. – (EurekAlert!)

Read more:
Passive smoking ups risk
Breast Centre

October 2008


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Dr Gudgeon qualified in Birmingham, England, in 1968. She has more than 40 years experience in oncology, and in 1994 she founded her practice, Cape Breast Care, where she treats benign and malignant breast cancers. Dr Boeddinghaus obtained her qualification at UCT Medical School in 1994 and her MRCP in London in 1998. She has worked extensively in the field of oncology and has a special interest in the hormonal management of breast cancer. She now works with Dr Gudgeon at Cape Breast Care. Read more.

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