Toxic Substance in Drinking Water Could Treat Breast Cancer

woman looking at roentgen film with doctor in braIf you hear you've been exposed to arsenic, or you have high levels of the heavy metal in your system, your first instinct is likely to freak out. After all, the word brings to mind nothing short of, well, poison. But researchers at the University of California Berkeley and the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile are reporting that arsenic is, in fact, linked to a 50 percent drop in breast cancer deaths. Crazy!

Their study, published in the journal EBioMedicine, points to breast cancer mortality data from a certain region in Chile where residents were inadvertently exposed to high levels of arsenic. But turns out, this correlated with breast cancer deaths being cut in half! And it was more noticeable among women under the age of 60, with mortality in these women reduced by 70 percent. Definitely unexpected.

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In fact, the study lead author Dr. Allan Smith, UC Berkeley professor of epidemiology, called the finding "astonishing."

And as if that wasn't enough, a related investigation at the Stanford Cancer Institute found that human breast cancer cells grown in lab cultures are killed by arsenic, and normal breast cells are more resistant to arsenic. Pretty impressive, but not all that surprising, given that arsenic had been used to treat a rare type of leukemia in the past.

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That said, even the researchers admit we need to keep the excitement about this in perspective. Cries for arsenic to be added to drinking water or taken as a supplement to preemptively address breast cancer development sound knee-jerk, premature, and more than a little kooky.

The best way to handle the finding is to study it further, and that's exactly what these researchers plan to do -- with carefully designed clinical trials. Ultimately, this discovery could lead to amazing progress in how we fight the disease!

How do you feel about this research -- nervous or hopeful?

 

Image via iStock.com/AtnoYdur

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