Limiting Dietary Asparagine Could Reduce Cancer Spread

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Researchers examined data from breast cancer patients, which showed the greater the ability of breast cancer cells to make asparagine, the more likely the disease was to spread.

Asparagine takes its name from the vegetable asparagus and is an amino acid.

Scientists have uncovered a key mechanism that facilitates the spread of breast cancer cells, and thus a potential target for new therapeutic approaches in the fight against the disease.

Scientists at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute showed that breast tumours struggle to grow and spread when they do not have access to the amino acid asparagine, which is found in asparagus, seafood, french fries, potato chips and toasted bread.

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A cancerous cell must go through huge changes in order to spread - it must learn to break off the main tumour, survive in the bloodstream and thrive elsewhere in the body. As per the study in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention in May 2017, the five year comparative survival rate for patients with metastatic breast cancer magnified between 1992 to 1994 and 2005 to 2012, increasing from 18 percent to 36 percent. But the researchers are still considering a human trial to see if the diet can really help.

GETTYMost breast cancer patients do not die from their primary tumour but from the spread of cancer
GETTYMost breast cancer patients do not die from their primary tumour but from the spread of cancer

The researchers also found that metastasis was greatly limited by reducing asparagine synthetase.

"Research like this is crucial to help develop better treatments for breast cancer patients".

Prof Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK's chief clinician, said: "Interestingly, the drug L-asparaginase is used to treat acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, which is dependent on asparagine".

They said their findings could also have implications for other cancer types, including kidney, and head and neck cancers. It's possible that in future, this drug could be re-purposed to help treat breast cancer patients.

In the future, restricting this amino acid through a controlled diet plan or by other means could be an additional part of treatment for some patients with breast and other cancers.

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