A cancer-causing gene triggered by alcohol is the likely link between alcohol consumption and a higher risk of breast cancer, according to new research from the University of Houston (UH) in Texas, suggesting that alcohol could influence a number of cancer-related pathways and mechanisms.
The findings were published in the journal PLOS ONE in an article titled “Alcohol Regulates Genes that Are Associated with Response to Endocrine Therapy and Attenuates the Actions of Tamoxifen in Breast Cancer Cells.”
Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer that affects women over the age of 50. Several risk factors have pointed to the development of the disease, including alcohol consumption, which researchers believe may cause tens of thousands of new breast cancer cases in the U.S. and Europe each year, and is associated with cancer recurrence when breast cancer is found in early stages.
But the mechanism by which alcohol contributes to breast cancer and its influence on the female hormone estrogen have not been fully understood.
“Alcohol consumption is prevalent among women in the U.S. and is a risk factor for breast cancer,” said UH cancer biologist Chin-Yo Lin in an UH news release.
The research team aimed to gain a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms of action of alcohol on breast cancer. As the disease requires the female hormone estrogen to continue growing, researchers used molecular, genetic, and genomic approaches to identify the effects of alcohol consumption on the estrogen receptor (ER+) of breast cancer cells.
Researchers found that alcohol boosts the estrogen-induced cell proliferation through promoting the expression of a gene named BRAF. And when alcohol is consumed in combination with Tamoxifen, a drug taken by women to prevent breast cancer by binding to the estrogen receptors, it reduces the drug efficacy to eliminate the rapid growth of cancer cells.
“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.” explained Dr. Lin.
The findings point, in particular, to the increased risk of breast cancer in women consuming alcohol who are treated with hormone replacement therapy for menopausal symptoms, as well as college-age women who are susceptible to heavy drinking in a social environment.
“We hope these and future findings will provide information and motivation to promote healthy behavioral choices, as well as potential targets for chemoprevention 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.”