A report published online on December 18, 2008 in the journal BioMed Central Cancer revealed the discovery of Spanish researchers of a suppressive effect of compounds found in extra virgin olive oil against breast cancer cells containing the cancer gene HER2. HER2 is amplified or overexpressed in an estimated 20 to 30 percent of invasive breast cancers, and is associated with a shorter relapse time and reduced survival.
Javier Menendez of the Catalan Institute of Oncology along with Antonio Segura-Carretero from the University of Granada and colleagues tested phenolic fractions of extra-virgin oil in two cultured human breast cancer cell lines, and left some cells untreated as controls. The team found that fractions containing polyphenols known as lignans and secoiridoids selectively triggered programmed death in cells overexpressing HER2 protein. "Our findings reveal for the first time that all the major complex phenols present in extra-virgin olive oil drastically suppress overexpression of the cancer gene HER2 in human breast cancer cells," Dr Menendez remarked.
Extra virgin olive oil is produced by pressing olives without the use of heat or chemicals, and retains phytochemicals otherwise lost in refinement. Although the authors speculated in their introduction to the article that the intake of significant amounts of olive oil might be responsible in part for the association observed between the consumption of a Mediterranean diet and a reduction in breast cancer risk, they note that, "The active phytochemicals (i.e. lignans and secoiridoids) exhibited tumoricidal effects against cultured breast cancer cells at concentrations that are unlikely to be achieved in real life by consuming olive oil". However, they add that "These findings, together with the fact that that humans have safely been ingesting significant amounts of lignans and secoiridoids as long as they have been consuming olives and extra-virgin oil, strongly suggest that these polyphenols might provide an excellent and safe platform for the design of new anti breast-cancer drugs."
Once cancer is diagnosed, there are several tests performed on lymph node or tumor tissue that can be useful in determining a woman's prognosis and for assessing the type of treatment that will be most effective for her specific breast cancer. The issue of which factors are the most reliable at determining a woman's prognosis and predicting her outcome to certain treatments is perpetually under study. As research progresses, certain factors will fall in and out of favor. Only when found to be accurate and reliable does a factor become a part of standard practice. Commonly assessed prognostic and predictive factors include lymph node status, tumor size, and tumor grade, type of cancer, hormone receptor status, proliferation rate, and HER2/neu (also known as erbB2 expression).
HER2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2) is a gene found in every cell of the human body, and its purpose is to help a cell divide. The HER2 gene tells a cell to form the HER2 protein on the cell surface. HER2 protein then receives a signal to send a message to the center of the cell, known as the nucleus, that it is time to divide. The HER2 protein is also called the HER2 receptor.
Each healthy breast cell contains two copies of the HER2 gene, which contribute to normal cell function. When a change occurs that causes too many copies of the HER2 gene to appear in a cell, the gene, in turn, causes too many HER2 proteins, or receptors, to appear on the cell surface. This is referred to as HER2 protein overexpression. Patients who are considered HER2-positive have cancer that grows and spreads more rapidly.
HER2 protein overexpression affects about 25% of breast cancer patients and results in a more aggressive form of the disease and earlier disease reappearance; in these cases the disease may not be as responsive to standard therapies. The HER2 status of a tumor is determined by testing tissue removed during a biopsy.
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