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Sept. 6, 2012 Volume 34, No. 3

Fruits, vegetables might help prevent a type of breast cancer


Funding for research on the natural remedy has several roadblocks

Sometimes preventative health is simple: Women can reduce their risk of an aggressive form of breast cancer by eating certain fruits, vegetable and spices.

Apigenin, a natural and common substance, shows promise as a non-toxic treatment for a breast cancer known as BT-474, Mizzou researchers announced in the most recent issue of the journal Hormones and Cancer. 

BT-474 is stimulated by progestin, a synthetic hormone doctors give to women to ease symptoms related to menopause. Studies show that apigenin shrinks cancer tumors stimulated by progestin. 

Salman Hyder, a professor of biomedical sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine, implanted BT-474 cancer cells into mice. The animals were also injected with medroxyprogesterone acetate, or MPA, a type of progestin commonly given to post-menopausal women. 

For the study, 12 mice were chosen that developed two tumors each. The group was divided in half, with one set of mice receiving apigenin and the other set receiving no treatment. Tumors continued to grow in the mice that didn’t receive apigenin, while the tumors shrank in the mice that received the natural substance.

“We don’t know exactly how apigenin does this on a chemical level,” Hyder said. “We do know that apigenin slowed the progression of human breast cancer cells in three ways: by inducing cell death, by inhibiting cell proliferation and by reducing expression of a gene associated with cancer growth.” 

Scientists believe apigenin may starve the tumors by restricting blood flow to them. In the mice study, Hyder and his colleagues discovered that blood vessels feeding the cancer cells were restricted in the apigenin-treated mice.   

Hyder hopes that someday apigenin injections will be a safe alternative or supplement to chemotherapy.

“Chemotherapy drugs cause hair loss, extreme fatigue and other side effects,” he said. “Apigenin has shown no toxic side effects even at high dosages. People have eaten it since pre-history in fruits, vegetables and curcumin, which is a common spice.”

But funding for clinical testing of apigenin in humans may be difficult, according to Hyder. 

“One problem is that, because apigenin doesn’t have a known specific target in the cancer cell, funding agencies have been reticent to support the research,” he said.

Also, pharmaceutical companies won’t likely profit from the natural treatment, he said. “The industry won’t put money into studying something you can grow in your garden.”