The strongest yet evidence of the link between diet and cancer risk appears to have been revealed in a medical research study, according to the scientific journal Nature.
Scientists at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute showed that breast tumours struggle to grow and spread when they do not have access to the amino acid asparagine, which is found in asparagus, seafood, french fries, potato chips and toasted bread.
Mice with intensive forms of breast cancer which would have seen them die within weeks were given low-asparagine diets or else were treated with drugs that blocked the absorption of the nutrient. Immediately the tumours began to find it difficult to grow and spread in the mice.
“It was a really huge change, [the cancers] were very difficult to find,” Professor Greg Hannon told the BBC.
“We’re seeing increasing evidence that specific cancers are addicted to specific components of our diet. In the future, by modifying a patient’s diet or by using drugs that change the way that tumour cells can access these nutrients we hope to improve outcomes in therapy."
The researchers believe that asparagine is used by cancers to spread around the body after the initial growth of a tumour. There already exist treatments for some cancers which target asparagine in the same way.
Professor Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, told the BBC: “Interestingly, the drug L-asparaginase is used to treat acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, which is dependent on asparagine. It’s possible that in future, this drug could be repurposed to help treat breast cancer patients.”
But lovers of asparagus and seafood should not banish them from their diets just yet, according to Baroness Delyth Morgan, the chief executive at Breast Cancer Now.
“We don’t recommend patients totally exclude any specific food group from their diet without speaking to their doctors. We’d also encourage all patients to follow a healthy and varied diet.”