Could Antioxidants Actually Increase Cancer Spread?

It has long been known that lung cancer is a particularly complex disease.  For one, the only way to diagnose it is to test for it directly (and you need a cohort of symptoms before that typically happens).  But lung cancer is also particularly dangerous for some patients because they have a genetic change that encourages the disease to spread faster.  And a new study explores how Vitamin E—which had at one point been a potential preventive cancer measure—might also encourage the disease to spread.

The research was led by scientists at the New York University School of Medicine Perlmutter Cancer Center.  By analyzing experiments on both mice and human tissue, the research team found that the very mechanisms that protect cancer cells from their own growth mutation, also appear to be connected to cancer cell migration and tissue invasion by the BACH1 protein. 

And, for whatever reason, Vitamin E appears to increase the risk for lung cancer spreading because of its effect on BACH1. This may not be the case for all patients, but in those with certain mutations, the Vitamin E effect could be more devastating. 

The study examines that cancer cells naturally arise from a single place in the body and then metastasize (spread) to take root in another part of the body.  Lung cancer, then, is a cancer that originates in the lung and then spreads (metastasizes) outward. It is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States. 

And while we know that lung cancer is so prominent, we also know that approximately 40 percent of lung cancers are adenocarcinomas. This is a form of cancer that forms out of mucous-producing cell that have already spread out of the lungs, in at least 22 percent of patients, by the time a doctor has diagnosed the condition. 

Lead study author Michele Pagano, MD comments on the study “Our results finally clarify the web of mechanisms surrounding the BACH1 signal.” 

Indeed, the recently published work revolves around random changes that occur in the body. Known as mutations, of course, these changes will repeat across the genetic code. While some mutations are found and weeded out of the code, some mutations are more persist; and might be benign or cause serious disease, as is the case here. 

The results of this study have been published this week in the journal Cell. 

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