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[Slashdot] - Fatty Acid Found In Palm Oil Linked To Spread of Cancer


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An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Scientists have shown how a fatty acid found in palm oil can encourage the spread of cancer, in work that could pave the way for new treatments. The study, on mice, found that palmitic acid promoted metastasis in mouth and skin cancers. In future, this process could be targeted with drugs or carefully designed eating plans, but the team behind the work cautioned against patients putting themselves on diets in the absence of clinical trials. The study adds to emerging evidence that diet can be used to enhance existing cancer treatments because certain nutrients are disproportionately relied on by tumor cells, or are required at critical stages such as metastasis. The study built on previous work by the same team showing that, within a tumor, just a small subset of cells have the capacity to spread by traveling out of the tumor, reaching other organs and colonizing them. These specialized cancer cells appeared to rely particularly heavily on fatty acids and the latest work narrowed this down to palmitic acid, which is found in palm oil -- but also in a wide variety of foods such as butter and olive oil. The study, published in Nature, found that when palmitic acid was supplemented into the diet of mice, mouth and skin cancers were more likely to spread. Other fatty acids called oleic acid and linoleic acid -- omega-9 and omega-6 fats found in foods such as olive oil and flaxseeds -- did not show the same effect. Neither of the fatty acids tested increased the risk of developing cancer in the first place. The study suggested that exposure to palmitic acid caused changes to the function of genes in cancer cells that allowed them to sense fatty acids and consume them more efficiently. The presence of palmitic acid also appeared to send cancer cells into a "regenerative state" allowing them to form signaling networks beyond the tumor, which is known to be a crucial step towards spreading.

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