In a study appearing in the journal PloS ONE, a team of researchers from the University of Houston found a link between breast cancer and alcohol by identifying a cancer-causing gene that is triggered by alcohol. The article is tilted “Alcohol Regulates Genes that Are Associated with Response to Endocrine Therapy and Attenuates the Actions of Tamoxifen in Breast Cancer Cells.”
This year, more than 230,000 women in the United States will develop breast cancer, one of the most common causes of cancer deaths in American women.
Several environmental factors are known to increase the risk of breast cancer, including behaviors people can modify such as alcohol consumption. Epidemiological studies have strongly linked alcohol consumption to an increased risk of breast cancer. These studies also show that breast cancer risk is positively correlated with the amount of alcohol consumed. Alcohol consumption has been found to be associated with the development of hormone-dependent breast cancers as well as disease progression and recurrence following endocrine treatment.
“Alcohol consumption is prevalent among women in the U.S. and is a risk factor for breast cancer,” UH cancer biologist Chin-Yo Lin, an assistant professor with the UH Center for Nuclear Receptors and Cell Signaling and the Department of Biology and Biochemistry, said in a news release. “Our research shows alcohol enhances the actions of estrogen in driving the growth of breast cancer cells and diminishes the effects of the cancer drug Tamoxifen on blocking estrogen by increasing the levels of a cancer-causing gene called BRAF.”
In the study, researchers aimed to determine how alcohol affects the actions of estrogen in breast cancer cells, and found that alcohol increases estrogen-induced cell proliferation. The study provides evidence of a link between alcohol, estrogen, and a gene known to cause cancer in promoting the growth of breast cancer cells.
Specifically, the researchers found that alcohol leads to an increase in the expression of the BRAF cancer-causing gene, even in the absence of estrogen, mimicking or enhancing the effects of estrogen in increasing breast cancer risk.
Alcohol was also found to weaken the ability of the drug Tamoxifen in suppressing the growth of cancer cells. According to the researchers, the findings indicate that exposure to alcohol may affect a number of cancer-related pathways and mechanisms.
As the researchers noted, the findings from the study not only highlight the mechanistic basis of the effects of alcohol on breast cancer cells and increased risks for disease incidents and recurrence, but may facilitate the discovery and characterization of novel oncogenic pathways and markers in breast cancer research and therapeutics.
“We hope these and future findings will provide information and motivation to promote healthy behavioral choices, as well as potential targets for chemo-prevention strategies, to ultimately decrease breast cancer incidents and deaths within the next decade,” Lin said.
“We want to provide women, in general, with more information and insight to be better able to balance their consumption of alcoholic beverages with the potential health risks, including cancer patients who may want to take into consideration the potential detrimental effects alcohol consumption might have on treatments, and modify their behavior and habits accordingly,” Lin said.