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Nicotine Contributes to Spread of Breast Cancer

Oct 20, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

A new study has found that exposure to nicotine - the addictive ingredient in tobacco - can contribute to breast cancer metastasis, the spread of cancer to other parts of the body that kills many patients. The study, published in the Oct. 15 issue of Cancer Research, not only adds to the list of smoking dangers, but also points to possible hazards of nicotine-containing products sometimes prescribed to help people stop smoking.

In a series of lab tests, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, Boston, discovered that certain breast epithelial-like cells produce different subtypes of the nicotine receptor nAChR, as do certain breast tumor cells.  When these receptors were bound with nicotine, they started signaling the cells to grow and migrate, the study showed. The findings were confirmed in mice.

Nicotine did not appear to cause metastasis and tumor growth on its own, but the researchers were unable to determine exactly what molecules nicotine must combine with to encourage cancer spread. 

It has long been known that nicotine can cause some types of cancer, but not much has been known about the role it plays in the spread of the disease.  The study authors said that more research is needed in this area.

The authors of the study also said that it appears that any exposure to nicotine - including secondhand smoke - may promote tumor growth and the spread of breast cancer. The study also casts doubt on the safety of  nicotine products  given to help people stop smoking should be used cautiously.

"Overall, our study provides evidence to suggest that nicotine is a possible component for initiation of breast cancer induced by second-hand smoking," the study authors wrote. "The present investigation also warrants a caution for the clinical use of nicotine to relieve chronic pain or aid in the cessation of cigarette smoking."

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