The Surprising Cause of Women's Oral Cancer
It's scary stuff: Head and neck cancer is on the rise, particularly among young women.
As you may expect, men and women who smoke and drink heavily are at special risk for these cancers. But here is the surprising fact: Women without these risk factors are still more likely to develop the disease than men who steer clear of alcohol and tobacco.
What makes women so vulnerable?
Experts suspect that hormones may be to blame. Researchers at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia discovered that adding estrogen to precancerous oral cells caused the cells to make more of a protein called CYP1B1. The protein prompts tumors to grow and spread. On the other hand, depleting the precancerous cells of CYP1B1 inhibited their growth and movement.
"These results imply that more estrogen in the body may be responsible for earlier and more aggressive head and neck cancer," says Ekaterina Shatalova, a lead author of the study. "However, more studies are needed to understand whether what we found in a dish is what happens in the human body, and if menopause would protect against head and neck cancer."
The Fox Chase team is now trying to identify naturally occurring compounds that stop oral cells from producing the harmful protein -- including one derived from citrus fruit.
Wondering where all that leaves you? While results are preliminary, they do suggest that estrogen may play a part in the development of oral cancer. With that in mind, if you take oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy (HRT), it's a good idea to talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of these drugs.
Shana Aborn is a New York-based editor and writer who has contributed to Ladies' Home Journal, Family Circle, Woman's Day and BettyConfidential.com, among other publications. Formerly the deputy editor of MAMM, she is currently the managing editor of Life & Beauty Weekly.
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