Research Finds Diabetes Drugs, Diet, and Alcohol Affect Breast Cancer Prevention

Several studies looked at older diabetes drugs for possible effects on breast cancer prevention, as well as the effects of diet and alcohol use on breast cancer risk.

Xiaohe Yang, MD, PhD, an associate professor at North Carolina Central University’s Nutrition Research program, investigated an association between the type 2 diabetes (T2D) drugs, metformin and buformin, and the influence of diet on the prevention of breast cancer.

Yang had conducted earlier research that showed metformin can target precursor cancer cells and take part in cancer prevention. The study discovered that systemic administration of metformin can block tumor initiating cells, which showed the potential for use of metformin as part of a breast cancer prevention strategy. Metformin, which is typically the first drug prescribed when a person is diagnosed with T2D, has been around for decades and is inexpensive.

Following those early results, Yang attempted to repurpose buformin, which is no longer used to treat diabetes, as another tool for cancer prevention. In one of Yang’s studies, buformin was found to have anti-cancer effects in precancerous tissues. The study used animal models of Her2-positive breast cancer, a subtype of breast cancer, and showed evidence of buformin as an anti-cancer drug that could assist in the development of a prevention or treatment strategy for patients.

“Overall, our results provide evidence for buformin as an effective anti-cancer drug that selectively targets TICs, and present a novel prevention and/or treatment strategy for patients who are genetically predisposed to erbB-2-overexpressing breast cancer,” notes Yang.

Diet can also contribute to breast cancer prevention, according to another study by Yang. This study found that genistein, a component of soy that has been found to decrease the risk of breast cancer, inhibits CIP2A activity, a gene that has the ability to turn a healthy cell into a tumor cell. Yang hopes to utilize this evidence to create an anti-cancer drug that mirrors genistein’s natural activity.

In a study published in March 2017, Yang further explored the impact of diet on breast cancer prevention. He investigated how alcohol exposure affects triple negative breast cancer, a subtype of breast cancer that is often linked to poor prognosis. His study focuses on the cellular effects of alcohol on the development and prevention of breast cancer and concludes that alcohol induced cancer cells will lead to cell growth and the spread of the cancer to other tissues.

“There is no ‘cure-all’ option that applies to all of the different types of this disease,” Yang concludes. “We hope our research will result in different drug options and strategies to successfully treat and, more importantly, prevent different types of breast cancer from even happening.”

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