Antioxidants, always claimed to be cancer preventive, may actually be spreading cancer instead.
In a new study, scientists observed this phenomenon in a mice.
Whether taken as a dietary supplement or produced by the body, antioxidants appear to help lung cancer cells invade tissues beyond the chest cavity, two studies report online June 27 in Cell. Experiments in mice and human tissue revealed that antioxidants(with focus on Vit E) both safeguard tumors against cell-damaging molecules and prompt the accumulation of the protein Bach1. As Bach1 piles up, tumors burn through glucose at higher rates, thus fueling the cancer cells’ migration to new organs.
The study explains: Normally, oxidative stress releases free-floating heme, an oxygen-carrying pigment that generates even more damaging molecules. To protect themselves, healthy cells use an enzyme heme oxygenase-1, or Ho1, to clear away excess heme. But in lung cancer cells, this safety measure gets inactivated. In mice, it is found that antioxidants actually encourage Ho1 production and ultimately allow the cancer to spread.
That’s because it turns out heme has another function: It helps degrade the Bach1 protein. As a result, getting rid of heme lets Bach1 build up in cancer cells and activates genes that drive metastasis.
“The results provide a new mechanism for how lung cancer cells can spread and may lead to new possibilities for treatment,” says Martin Bergö, who led one of the new studies.
Lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide, claims about 1.6 million lives each year — more than colon, breast and prostate cancers combined. Most lung cancer deaths are related to metastasis. The new findings point to methods of slowing or stopping the spread before it’s too late.
Study found that supplement doses of antioxidants accelerate primary tumor growth in mice, and clinical trials have found similar results in humans. This will now be studied in other cancers too.
This newfound pathway as a “potent promoter of metastasis” could help doctors develop new treatments, identify which tumors to treat aggressively and better advise patients about taking vitamin supplements.
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