Fatty acid composition of erythrocyte membranes linked to breast cancer risk

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Last Updated: 2001-07-24 17:00:39 EDT (Reuters Health)

WESTPORT, CT (Reuters Health) – Women whose erythrocyte membranes have elevated levels of monounsaturated fats or a low saturation index are more likely than other women to develop breast cancer, according to a report published in the July 18th issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Findings from previous studies have suggested a link between the saturation index–the ratio of stearic acid to oleic acid–and the development of breast cancer, but these studies, unlike the current one, were retrospective in nature, the authors note.

Dr. Vittorio Krogh, from the Istituto Nazionale per la Cura e lo Studio dei Tumori in Milan, Italy, and colleagues compared the erythrocyte membrane fatty acid composition of 71 women who developed postmenopausal breast cancer with that of 141 matched control subjects who did not develop the malignancy.

The odds ratio (OR) for developing breast cancer among women with the highest levels of oleic acid and monounsaturated fatty acids in their erythrocyte membranes were 2.79 and 5.21, respectively, compared with women with the lowest levels. The OR for women with the highest saturation indices was 0.29 relative to women with lowest saturation indices.

"We have shown that the fatty acid composition of erythrocyte membranes is associated with breast cancer risk," the authors note. "The composition seems to be influenced by the fatty acid composition of the diet and by the endogenous synthesis and metabolism of fatty acid residues, in which dietary, hormonal, and other factors may intervene in ways that are incompletely understood," they add.

"Clearly, further studies are required to clarify these intriguing aspects of the relationship between red blood cell membrane fatty acid composition and breast cancer pathogenesis," Dr. Krogh's team concludes.

J Natl Cancer Inst 2001;93:1088-1095.

-Westport Newsroom 203 319 2700

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