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Potential key to halting breast cancer's spread discovered by scientists

09 February 2018

After feeding the mice a diet low in asparagine, researchers found that the diet reduced the tumor's ability to spread.

Most breast cancer patients do not die from their initial tumour, but from secondary malignant growths (metastases), where cancer cells are able to enter the blood and survive to invade new sites.

It is found in the foodies' favourite asparagus, as well as poultry, seafood and many other foods. This drug may also be tried in breast cancer patients he said if proven in future clinical trials.

"Our work has pinpointed one of the key mechanisms that promotes the ability of breast cancer cells to spread", said Professor Greg Hannon, lead author of the study published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, in a statement. Fruits and vegetables usually are low on asparagines compared to animal products.

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. Foods rich in asparagine include dairy, beef and eggs. They designed and carried out studies to measure the levels of asparagine in different tissues within the mice before and after treatment with the L-asparaginase drug.

Cambridge scientists have found proof of cancer spread to be connected to the kind of food people consume. The study has been performed on mice diagnosed with a severe breast cancer.

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Asparagine is an amino acid - a building block of protein - and takes its name from asparagus.

"This finding adds vital information to our understanding of how we can stop cancer spreading - the main reason patients die from their disease".

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive at Breast Cancer Now, said: "This early discovery could offer a long-awaited new way to help stop breast cancer spreading - but we first need to understand the true role of this nutrient in patients".

"This is a rare sub type of breast cancer called triple-negative breast cancer so it does not apply to all breast cancers and of course it is a mouse model so we can't really say the same is true for humans".

The team also believes the study has implications for not just breast cancer, but other types of metastatic cancers as well.

Potential key to halting breast cancer's spread discovered by scientists