Asian Scientist (Sep. 24, 2013) – A study by researchers in Australia has highlighted the important role played by immune cells in the risk of developing breast cancer.
Researchers studying immune cells known as macrophages in the breast have revealed how the role of these cells changes because of fluctuations in hormones during different times of the month.
In their study, published in Biology of Reproduction, the researchers showed that while immune cells have a role to play in the normal function of the breast, at certain stages in the menstrual cycle they may help to make the breast more susceptible to cancer.
“These cells should be protecting our body from cancer, but at certain times of the month it appears macrophages might be allowing cancerous cells to escape immune system detection,” said senior author Associate Professor Wendy Ingman.
“It’s sort of a Jekyll and Hyde scenario – we need the macrophages to do their job so that the breast can function normally, but at the same time they’re giving cancerous cells the chance to survive.”
“We think there is a window of risk that opens up around the time when women have their period. This is when levels of the hormone progesterone drop, and this affects how the breast functions. At this time, immune defenses in the breast tissue are down and women could be more susceptible to the initiating factors that lead to breast cancer.”
Researchers have known for some time that there is a link between the number of years of menstrual cycling and breast cancer risk but they are now just starting to understand the reasons behind this.
Source: University of Adelaide; Photo: snre/Flickr/CC.
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