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Alcohol increases breast cancer risk, says a new study


May 5, 2007: It has been known for long that consumption of alcohol is a risk factor for breast cancer. However, the exact reason for this has remained obscure.

A new study using a mouse model has now shed some light on the why and how of the disease.

Alcohol increased the production of a growth factor known as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in tumour cells. The increased levels of VEGF hastened the formation of new blood vessels in a process known as angiogenesis, which allows tumours to grow and metastasise.

VEGF, incidentally, is needed for the formation of new blood vessels.

The study has concluded that moderate consumption of alcohol stimulates the growth and progression of breast cancer by fuelling the development of new blood vessels, which is compulsory for the growth of cancer cells. In short, VEGF can promote the formation of new blood vessels, and this suggests that alcohol can induce tumour angiogenesis.

The scientists who conducted the study suggest the difference in the weight of tumour is the result of heightened growth in blood vessels owing to alcohol consumption.

This happens because when a rodent, or a human, drinks alcohol, the cells in their bodies go into overdrive to get rid of the ‘toxins.’ The stressed-out cells then send out the hormone VEGF that stimulates the growth of blood vessels.

The study is the first of its kind to use an animal model that accurately mimics breast cancer. In the previous studies, human breast-cancer cells were injected into ‘nude’ mice, or those mice lacking an immune system. Without a line of defence, the mice’s bodies would let the foreign cells grow and scientists could run experiments on them.

There have also been many studies, which used toxic levels of alcohol, leading to results that were less applicable to humans who consumed lesser quantities of alcohol.

The researchers conclude that their results, unlike the results of previous studies, can be directly translated to humans and have implications both in preventing and helping treat breast cancer.

Normal people produce cancer cells every day, according to a researcher. But, at the beginning, the cancer does not have blood vessels. This makes it easier for the body’s immune system to fend them off. However, once the cancerous cells acquire a blood-vessel lifeline, which the new study suggests is triggered by alcohol, the tumour growth succeeds.




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