Researchers link spread of breast cancer and diet

Restricting the amino acid found in asparagus soy dairy poultry beef and seafood decreased the spread of breast cancer

Restricting the amino acid found in asparagus soy dairy poultry beef and seafood decreased the spread of breast cancer

But it is also found in the diet, and in high levels in certain meats, vegetables and dairy products.

Researchers are investigating whether a change in diet could help patients with breast tumours after studies in mice showed that asparagine, a compound first identified in asparagus but present in many other foods, drives the spread of the disease to other organs.

United Kingdom researchers have discovered a nutrient in everyday foods can determine a cancer's growth and expansion.

Asparagine is an amino acid - a building block of protein - and takes its name from asparagus.

Only previous year, the University of Glasgow's research showed that removing the amino acids, serine and glycine, resulted in the slowed progression of lymphoma and intestinal cancers.

Under normal conditions, they would die within a couple of weeks as it spread through their bodies.

While it is not clear how, a team showed that a diet low in asparagine significantly reduced tumours' spread in affected mice.

"It was a really huge change, [the cancers] were very hard to find", said Professor Greg Hannon.


"When the availability of asparagine was reduced, we saw little impact on the primary tumour in the breast, but tumour cells had reduced capacity for metastases in other parts of the body. In the future, by modifying a patient's diet or by using drugs that change the way that tumor cells can access these nutrients we hope to improve outcomes in therapy".

An initial tumour is rarely deadly.

A cancerous cell must go through huge changes in order to spread - it must learn to break off the main tumour, survive in the bloodstream and thrive elsewhere in the body.

But fear not asparagus lovers, these findings still need to be confirmed in people and asparagine is hard to avoid in the diet anyway.

Greg Hannon, from Cancer Research UK's Cambridge Institute, said that they became interested in asparagine because they had noticed that breast cancer patients with the greatest propensity to...

Writing in the journal Nature, the researchers describe how they reduced the ability of breast cancer to spread in the animals by blocking asparagine with a drug called L-asparaginase.

Further trials are still necessary. Experts do not recommend the removal of foods from the diet containing asparaginase because it can be very hard to do, and the findings of this study have not yet been confirmed.

"This study may have implications not only for breast cancer, but for many metastatic cancers", said Ravi Thadhani, MD, MPH, vice dean, Research and Graduate Research Education, at Cedars-Sinai.

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