New research has found that there may be a link between natural and synthetic progestins, which are hormones, to the production of cancerous cells in the human body, according to Science Daily.

These particular cancer cells begin in the breast and continue metastasizing elsewhere in the human body. Scientists may be able to better target these cancerous cells because this research shows that hormones stimulate cancer growth.

Previously, researchers uncovered that hormone replacement therapy during menopause increases the rate of breast cancer. More recently, scientists from the University of Missouri found that natural and synthetic progestins create specialized cancer cells with similar behavior to stem cells in the human body.

“In previous studies, we have shown that both natural and synthetic progestins accelerate the development of breast cancer and increase their metastasis to lymph nodes,” Salman Hyder, professor in tumor angiogenesis and professor of biomedical sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine and the Dalton Cardiovascular Research Center, told the source.

“Our laboratory is committed to identifying the cell mechanisms that bring about increased breast cancer risks. Recently, our research focused on special cells — which are called ‘cancer stem cell-like cells’ — that induce aggressive tumor growth, metastasis and cancer recurrence.”

These findings could help scientists find immunotherapies that can better target these specialized cancerous cells. This type of new information shows how much of a link hormones really have to breast cancer development. Women will need to avoid hormone replacement therapy in order to lower their breast cancer risk.

The researchers looked at hormone-responsive breast cancer cell markers to determine how progestin affected the cancerous cell. Natural and synthetic progestins were found to raise the expression of the protein CD44. This particular protein is used to make cells proliferate, communicate, and move inside the human body. These are clearly actions associated with cancer growth and development.

The progestins also caused the cancerous cells to act like stem cells. The cells made identical copies of themselves and grew or proliferated in the study. Essentially, progestin helped these specialized cancer cells grow.

“The findings show that exposure to natural and synthetic progestins leads to the development of these cancer stem-cell like cells,” Hyder concluded. “These cells greatly increase the likelihood of resistance to therapies and the risk for metastasis. Our findings also suggest that clinicians may be able to combat the progestin-dependent tumor growth through immunotherapy.”

Immunotherapies may be the next best thing in treating breast cancer over the coming years. This may mean that men and women diagnosed with breast cancer will have fewer side effects to manage if they do not need chemotherapy or radiation.

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