Study Links Food Compound to Spread of Cancer

Ebony Scott
February 9, 2018

Researchers examined data from breast cancer patients, which showed the greater the ability of breast cancer cells to make asparagine, the more likely the disease was to spread.

Researchers have linked an amino acid found in a variety of foods including asparagus to the spread of breast cancer, work that has been labelled as a "really important study" by Cancer Society New Zealand.

A team of worldwide cancer researchers from the UK, US and Canada studied the impact of asparagine in triple-negative breast cancer cells, which grow and spread faster than most other types of cancer cells. It was more likely to be restricted to one site, potentially making the cancer significantly less harmful. It's believed asparagine is necessary for tumors to spread. Poultry and several other sea foods are also associated with breast cancer growth because they have high levels of asparagine, they noted.

"If shown to be an effective approach, it's possible that dietary advice to avoid foods containing asparagine, or drugs that break down this nutrient, could be added to standard treatment to help prevent metastasis".

These include asparagus, seafood, soy, egg, nuts and beef.

"This study may have implications not only for breast cancer, but for many metastatic cancers", added Ravi Thadhani, from the varsity.

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According to The charity's head nurse Martin Ledwick: "Research like this is crucial to help develop better treatments for breast cancer patients". Altering the diet to fit in the cancer profile could thus help reduce the spread of the cancer and its growth, he explained.

By reducing asparagine in the mouse diet, metastasis was reduced by half, Hannon told AFP.

"It was a really huge change, [the cancers] were very hard to find", said Greg Hannon, the lead scientist for the study and the director of Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute.

The researchers gave mice with breast cancer an enzyme that prevents the production of the amino acid asparagine.

The research team found that this genetic adjustment had the same effect in reducing the spread of cancer, or made new metastases smaller with a combination of techniques producing the best results - and in some cases even shrinking the primary tumour.

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