Scientists from IRB Barcelona found one fatty acid commonly found in palm oil, called palmitic acid, promotes metastasis in oral cancer and melanoma skin cancer.
The research is published in Nature and was conducted by Professor Salvador Aznar-Benitah et al.
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.
The study uncovers how palmitic acid alters the cancer genome, increasing the likelihood cancer will spread. The researchers have started developing therapies that interrupt this process.
Metastasis—or the spread—of cancer remains the main cause of death in cancer patients and the vast majority of people with metastatic cancer can only be treated, but not cured.
Fatty acids are the building blocks of fat in our body and the food we eat. Metastasis is fueled by fatty acids in our diet.
The current research found that when palmitic acid was supplemented into the diet of mice, it not only contributed to metastasis but also exerts long-term effects on the genome.
Cancer cells that had only been exposed to palmitic acid in the diet for a short period of time remained highly metastatic even when the palmitic acid had been removed from the diet.
The researchers found that this “memory” is caused by epigenetic changes—changes to how our genes function.
The changes alter the function of metastatic cancer cells and allow them to form a neural network around the tumor to communicate with cells in their immediate environment and to spread more easily.
The team a way to block it and are now in the process of planning a clinical trial to stop metastasis in different types of cancer.
The researchers think it is too early to determine which type of diet could be consumed by patients with metastatic cancer that would slow down the metastatic process.
However, based on the current results one would think that a diet low in palmitic acid could be effective in slowing down the metastatic process, but much more work is needed to determine this.
For more information about cancer, please see recent studies about a new method to treat cancer effectively, and results showing this daily vitamin is critical to cancer prevention.
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