Scientists Discover New Driver of Estrogen-Receptor-Positive Breast Cancer

A team of researchers at the Univeristy of Texas (UT) Southwestern has found that, as cholesterol is metabolized, a potent stimulant of breast cancer is created – one that fuels estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancers, and that may also defeat a common treatment strategy for those cancers. The multidisciplinary team discovered that a cholesterol metabolite called 27-hydroxycholesterol, or 27HC, promotes tumor growth in estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancers, which are the most common type of breast cancer. Estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer was previously believed to be stimulated primarily by the female sex hormone estrogen and it is commonly treated using endocrine-based medications that starve tumors of estrogen. The discovery of 27HC as another driver of breast cancer may explain why endocrine-based therapy is often unsuccessful, providing a new target for therapy, the researchers say. “This information can be used to develop new therapies that inhibit 27HC action or production, or increase its metabolism, in effect cutting the cancer off from a key growth stimulator,” said senior author Dr. Philip Shaul, Professor and Vice Chair for Research in Pediatrics and a member of the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center. Implications of the research that appears online in Cell Reports on November 7, 2013, are significant. One million new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year, and about two-thirds of those are hormone-receptor-positive, meaning they contain receptors for the hormones estrogen and/or progesterone, according to the American Cancer Society. Estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer is particularly prevalent following menopause.
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