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Cholesterol drugs may improve breast cancer treatment

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The resistance of breast cancer tumours to hormone therapy can be prevented using cholesterol-lowering drugs, a study suggests.

Researchers from Georgetown University in Washington DC believe cholesterol helps protect tumours from the effects of drugs like tamoxifen.

The findings suggest cholesterol increases the toughness of cell membranes, thereby preventing hormone therapy drugs from breaking through. It is also thought cholesterol could affect the cells’ ‘energy centres’ - known as mitochondria - making it harder to reach apoptosis, or cell death.

The study, presented to the American Association for Cancer Research’s annual meeting in Denver, Colorado, indicates that cholesterol-lowering drugs such as statins may be useful for patients with tamoxifen-resistant breast cancer.

It is also thought any drug that can retard the production of cholesterol by breast cancer tumours may also have a beneficial effect.

Lead researcher Dr Rebecca Riggins said: ‘High levels of mitochondrial cholesterol can delay or block cell death.

‘This is important because many cancer drugs, including tamoxifen, have been shown to induce breast cancer cell death through the mitochondria.’

Most breast cancers are fuelled by the female hormone oestrogen. Hormone therapy can reduce the sensitivity of breast cancer cells to oestrogen, but in some women it fails to work effectively.

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