Man-made anti-oxidant could speed spread of cancer

First Posted: 2:48 pm - October 23rd, 2015

Thomas Crisp - Contributing Columnist

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Research shows an increase in cancer cells in mice but the link between N-acetylcysteine and melanoma progression needs more study.

A man-made antioxidant appears to accelerate the spread of skin cancer in mice, raising questions about its safety in humans, researchers say.

The antioxidant, N-acetylcysteine, is used to relieve mucus production in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), said study senior author Martin Bergo, a professor at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.

It also is used as a supplement by people who believe that the antioxidant can help reduce exercise-related muscle damage, burn fat and prevent fatigue, Bergo added.

But water laced with N-acetylcysteine appeared to speed up the spread of melanoma, the potentially deadly skin cancer, in lab mice, researchers found.

The antioxidant had no effect on the number and size of tumors, but it enhanced the migration and invasion of these tumors to other parts of the body, the research team reported Oct. 7 in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

N-acetylcysteine was linked to a doubling of the number of lymph-node tumors in mice who drank the laced water, compared to untreated animals, according to the findings.

Previously, the same research team reported that certain antioxidants can spur lung tumor growth in mice.

Antioxidants are believed to protect healthy cells from damage caused by unstable molecules called “free radicals,” according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).

However, Bergo believes that antioxidants like N-acetylcysteine also protect cancer cells from free radicals that might otherwise slow their growth or keep them from spreading to other parts of the body.

Other studies have linked high doses of beta-carotene to increased risk of lung cancer in smokers. High doses of vitamin E may increase risk of prostate cancer, the NIH says.

“For people with an increased risk of cancer, this means that taking nutritional supplements containing antioxidants may unintentionally speed up the progression of a small tumor or premalignant lesion, neither of which is possible to detect,” Bergo said.

Bergo said his team decided to focus on N-acetylcysteine because it is a potent antioxidant that dissolves quickly in water, which makes it easy to feed to lab mice.

The researchers also performed follow-up lab tests on human melanoma cells, using N-acetylcysteine and vitamin E. Both antioxidants produced similar results in the human skin cancer cells, increasing their ability to migrate and invade other cells.

The boost provided to skin cancer could come from antioxidants’ protective benefits. But the research team also found that the antioxidants activated a protein that regulates cellular processes and is likely involved in promoting the spread of cancer.

Bergo recommends that people with cancer or at high risk for cancer avoid antioxidant supplements.

“For a patient with newly diagnosed lung cancer or melanoma — and potentially other cancer forms — antioxidants could speed up the progression of the disease,” he said. “There is no conclusive evidence that antioxidant supplementation would be beneficial for these patients, and they should be encouraged to avoid this strategy because the risk of worsening the disease is high.”

Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, said that while the study results are interesting, “it’s difficult to take this information and directly translate it into recommendations for patients.” [Oct. 7, 2015 (HealthDay News)]

Veteran burials

Most U.S. veterans are eligible for burial and memorial benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) National Cemetery Administration.

If you are a veteran, veteran’s spouse, or minor child, you are generally eligible for burial at one of the national or state cemeteries located across the United States. Veterans may also be eligible for military funeral honors, burial flags, headstones and markers, and Presidential Memorial Certificates at no cost.

Veterans buried in private cemeteries may also receive military funeral honors, burial flags, headstones and markers, and Presidential Memorial Certificates at no cost. Spouses and dependents are not entitled to free burial services.

To schedule a burial at a VA national cemetery, fax all discharge documentation to 1-866-900-6417 or e-mail it to NCA.Scheduling@va.gov. Call 1-800-535-1117. Be prepared to state the cemetery of choice, the type of religious emblem for the headstone, the funeral director’s contact information, and other information listed in Step 2 on the Schedule a Burial page. Note: The Army, not the VA, operates Arlington National Cemetery.

Agent Orange exposure

If you were exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, you can receive an Agent Orange Registry health exam. If you’re concerned about Gulf War Illness from any duty from the first Gulf War through the Iraq War, you can receive a Gulf War Registry health exam.

These exams are free, help identify possible long-term problems related to your service and don’t require enrollment in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system.

To register, contact your local VA environmental health care coordinator. Call the VA’s Special Issues line at 1-800-749-8387 or visit GulfLINK for more information.

Thomas Crisp

Contributing Columnist

Thomas Crisp is a retired military officer from Whitmire. His veterans updates can be found weekly in The Newberry Observer.


Thomas Crisp is a retired military officer from Whitmire. His veterans updates can be found weekly in The Newberry Observer.


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