Contemplating anti-oxidants, reactive oxygen species and cancer.

Not to be taken out of context, but I have been contemplating this for a few years; it started when I researched the effects of Beta carotene and lung cancer. It made no sense to me that an anti-oxidant (beta carotene) would be detrimental with a lung cancer diagnosis. Anti-oxidants scavenge reactive oxygen species (ROS), which induces cellular, protein and DNA damage. The prevailing wisdom was that with less ROS, there would be less cellular damage and cancer would be squelched. However, the data did not line up with current thinking.

Then, I started to think about what ROS (reactive oxygen species) does inside a cell, which is to activate p53-mediated apoptosis. If there are fewer ROS molecules, would there be less activation of p53-mediated programmed cell death? Instead of being detrimental to cancer, this may actually do the opposite! 

Then, this study was published! This study, with an excellent lay person’s summary in The Scientist, demonstrates that increased anti-oxidants lead to fewer ROS molecules, which suppresses programmed cell death via p53–in this particular type of cancer. This is the biggest caveat–it may not be universal for all cancers! And, in humans, each cancer is entirely unique; none of us acquire cancer the same way. Even within one person, each tumor is likely to become malignant by a different way. More studies are needed, and this group is looking into this in other cancer cell lines. The biggest caveat here is that cell lines are FAR REMOVED from tumors! But, hopefully it is enough preliminary data to start checking this in cultures of primary tumors from people!

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