Specific Protein Link Found Between Alcohol and Breast Cancer

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A press release from a university study in Mexico is saying a toxic substance produced in alcoholics directly leads to a higher rate of breast cancer. While the link between alcohol and breast cancer has been known, the specific mechanism hasn’t.

The protein involved, CYP2E1, is a type of enzyme that breaks down the alcohol molecule at the tissue level. The products of this breakdown, free radicals, are then present and linked to the genetic changes that cause the cancer. When chromosomes are damaged in a particular way, the cell involved loses its ability to regulate growth. It is the unregulated growth that then causes the tumors and other effects of cancer.

Because different people naturally make different levels of this protein, and that variation is based on genetics, this finding also explains the familial link to breast cancer. According to one researcher, “Our results showed that ethanol-treated human mammary cells had an increase in free radical production, oxidative stress and the activation of cellular mechanisms that cause cells to increase their proliferation rate. So if you are a woman who naturally expresses higher levels of CYP2E1 and you consume alcohol, you would be at a greater risk for developing breast cancer than a woman who expresses lower amounts of CYP2E1.”

This finding gives other researchers a target to go after. First of all, those women who are born with a higher production of CYP2E1 could be forewarned against the danger of alcohol consumption. It doesn’t, however, lead directly to a treatment, other than alcohol avoidance. Researchers also caution that cancers may have more than one cause. There will be no single “cure” for cancer, but rather, a series of treatments targeted at different ways cells turn cancerous. Other mechanisms must be in play, since not all women who get breast cancer drink.

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