Researchers find direct link to alcohol, breast cancer risk
A UH professor and his team have discovered a direct link between alcohol and breast cancer risk by identifying a cancer-causing gene that is triggered by alcohol consumption.
“It has been shown that even a small or moderate amount of alcohol consumption can increase breast cancer risk,” cancer biologist and assistant professor Chin-Yo Lin said. “We wanted to find out what was happening to these cells on a molecular level. Our goal was to find the mechanism by which alcohol can increase the risk of breast cancer.”
Lin and his former student, Nicholes Candelaria, describe their findings in a paper titled, “Alcohol Regulates Genes that Are Associated with Response to Endocrine Therapy and Attenuates the Actions of Tamoxifen in Breast Cancer Cells.”
Their research cites that “more than 230,000 women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer, currently one of the most common causes of cancer deaths in American women,” and that 5 percent of those cases in the U.S. and Europe are attributable to alcohol consumption. This equates to tens of thousands of cases caused by alcohol.
“There has been so much data that epidemiological studies (used) to prove this correlation, but this is the first time we have been able to test this link in the laboratory,” Lin said.
Candelaria said his role in the research was to develop a model system to better showcase the interaction of breast cancer cells with known hormonal signals, available treatments and alcohol.
Candelaria and Lin also worked closely with Texas A&M University professor Rajesh Miranda, an alcohol researcher who helped to set up some of the experiments that explain how alcohol interacts with cells.
Estrogen is the major driving force that causes most breast cancer cells to divide, Lin said. When the hormone is subjected to alcohol, the effects are enhanced.
The cancer-causing gene that Lin and his colleagues studied was BRAF, which normally is a gene that controls cell growth. When mutated and activated abnormally, this gene, similar to the effects of estrogen, drives cancer. In this specific study, it was found that alcohol spreads this activation, Lin said.
Their findings also show that alcohol diminishes the effects of cancer drug Tamoxifen, which is typically used to block the actions of estrogen.
“There is not just a correlation between alcohol consumption and breast cancer, there is a direct link,” Lin said. “Hopefully this draws attention to negative effects of alcohol consumption.”
Lin and Candelaria said their ultimate goal is to use this knowledge in breast cancer prevention. They hope women who consume alcohol take steps to more regularly monitor their health in light of these findings.
“There are definitely several risks that come with alcohol consumption, (like) alcoholism and liver damage,” Lin said. “But this research shows that there is also a direct risk to breast cancer as well.”
Lin said he believes UH does a good job of educating the students of some of the dangers of alcohol. However, he hopes their findings solidify that the more you consume, the higher the risks become. He said he believes that it’s the heavy drinking on a regular basis that is the most risky.
Candelaria said he agrees with Lin’s beliefs.
“We want women to know that alcohol consumption, like many other behaviors, is associated not only with risks to their well-being but to their future health as well,” Candelaria said. “We all need to take better precautions for a longer and healthy life.”