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03/07/2009

Vitamin A- the new cancer treatment

(NaturalNews) A special form of vitamin A could be the key to the future of breast cancer prevention and treatment, according to researchers at the University of Chicago.

A team of scientists, headed by Professor Kevin Brown of the University's Institute for Genomics and System Biology, investigated the link between the vitamin form, known as retinoic acid, and the effect of estrogen in stimulating cancer growth. Many forms of breast cancer are 'estrogen sensitive', meaning that the hormone estrogen helps them to grow. The researchers looked into the ability of retinoic acid to suppress cancer-related genes that estrogen would stimulate to promote tumor growth. They discovered that the vitamin A derivative was able to switch off nearly 150 genes fueled by the hormone and that in nearly half of all cases the two compounds competed in 'see-saw' fashion to simultaneously activate or switch off the same genes.

Writing in the journal Cell, Professor Brown expressed his belief that the results suggest "new ways to think about preventing the disease in those at high risk." [1]

The link between breast cancer prevention or treatment and vitamin A has been known since as far back as 1993, when a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that women eating less than one serving of vitamin A-rich foods each day were 20% more likely to develop the disease. [2]

In 1999, a study published by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute suggested that pre-menopausal women with a family history of breast cancer but higher vitamin A intakes were significantly less likely to suffer from the disease than those with lower intakes. [3]

Also in 1999, a derivative of the nutrient known as fenretinide was found to prevent women with pre-existing cancers from developing a second tumor. Researchers in Italy treated 3,000 patients with fenretinide or no therapy after surgery and discovered that those in the treatment group were around 30% less likely to suffer further progression of the disease. Lead researcher Albert Costa of the European Institute of Ocology Breast Division in Milan stated that the compound could be "an effective treatment for patients" and "a potential preventative for healthy women at high risk". [4]

Retonic acid is already licensed to treat a rare form of cancer known as acute promyelocytic leukemia.

Commenting on the current study, Dr Myles Brown of Harvard Medical School and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute stated that "this work reveals important insights on the interplay between vitamin A and estrogen action. These insights will hopefully lead to new approaches for the prevention and treatment of the most common form of breast cancer."

[1] Brown et al. Retinoic Acid and Estrogen: A Clash of Titans. Cell. 2009 June.137: 1161-1163
[2] Hunter et al. A Prospective Study of the Intake of Vitamins C, E, and A and the Risk of Breast Cancer. 1993 July. 4; 329:324-249
[3] Zhang S et al. Dietary carotenoids and vitamins A, C, and E and risk of breast cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst. 1999; 91(6):547-556.
[4] Veronesi et al. Randomized trial of fenretinide to prevent second breast malignancy in women with early breast cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst. 1999. 91(21):1847-56.

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