Estrogen may play role in rising rates of head and neck cancer.
Researchers at Fox Chase Cancer Center wondered why women were developing oral cancers in such large numbers. What they found was a link to precancerous cell movement and the hormone estrogen.
Women under 40 make up one of the fastest growing groups of head and neck cancers patients.
Scientists discovered estrogen creates more of a protein that helps precancerous cells divide and spread. Estrogen also prevents those cells from dying.
Katya Shatalova, a member of the research team, said that, historically, oral cancers are associated with men.
“The bottom line is, if you remove the big risk factors like smoking, drinking and HPV infection, then women get it more often,” she said. “Which tells us that after the big risk factors, the next risk factor may be estrogen.”
Women make up 75 percent of those who develop these cancers without engaging in any of the risk factors.
Margie Clapper, with the Cancer Prevention and Control Program, said this discovery is huge for cancer prevention efforts.
“If we can find a way to stop this protein, stop its activity, then we could have a major impact on trying to delay the progression or advancement of these lesions into a full-blown cancer,” she said.
During the studies, when the protein was artificially removed, the cells slowed down. The research team is hoping to find a natural supplement to control that activity.