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Clear Link Found From Alcohol to Breast Cancer

Researchers track down the microscopic culprit responsible for increased cancer risk for drinkers.

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Researchers think they've got it all figured
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By Valerie Tejeda

04/24/12

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Booze has long been associated with breast cancer—rates are 40 to 50% higher for women who drink three drinks a day—but medical professionals have never been able to explain why. Now, one research team thinks they have the answer. The team, from the Universidad Autonoma del Estado de Morelos in Mexico, tracked a protein called CYP2E1 in breast tissue samples from healthy women. This protein is where most breast cancers originate, and it's found in the "mammary epithelial" breast cells, to which researchers administered ethanol. The results? Cells that expressed low levels of CYP2E1 were almost immune to the ethanol, while cells with high levels of the protein began to produce carcinogenic free radicals. "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," says Maria de Lourdes Rodriguez-Fragoso, professor of pharmacology and toxicology. "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." Rodriguez-Fragoso believes that with these results they will be able to develop a better method of diagnosis for breast cancer: "If you know the risk probability of certain behaviors on your likelihood of developing cancer, then you can better understand what preventative measures you should be taking.”

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