Rates of head and neck cancer are rising among some groups of people, including young women without any known risk factors. Now, a study suggests that estrogen may help the cancer spread by boosting the movement of precancerous cells in the mouth.


Previous research found that the body changes how it handles estrogen after the lungs are exposed to smoke. This may lead to lung cancer.

The Study

In the new study, researchers examined how estrogen affects cells that are cancerous or primed to become cancerous. They found that an enzyme called CYP1B1 is linked to reproduction in precancerous cells.

"In the future, we would like to find a natural or dietary agent to deplete the CYP1B1 enzyme and see if we can prevent oral cancer at the precancerous stage," Ekaterina Shatalova, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, said in a news release from the American Association for Cancer Research.

The Findings

Margie Clapper, co-leader of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program at Fox Chase Cancer Center, said in the news release, "We found that cells lacking it move slower. CYP1B1 could be a wonderful target in precancerous lesions of the head and neck because, by attacking it, we might stop these lesions from progressing or moving to a more advanced stage."

Learning More About What Causes Cancer

The findings could help researchers "understand factors that cause head and neck cancer, in addition to the traditional risk factors of tobacco and alcohol exposure," according to Jennifer R. Grandis, MD, director of the Head and Neck Cancer Program at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

But the findings won't be confirmed until researchers do more work in people, the study authors noted.

The study was published in an issue of Cancer Prevention Research.

Coffee May Fight Endometrial Cancer

When researchers studied the diets and health of 23,356 women ages 55 to 69), those who drank at least 25 cups of coffee daily had a much lower risk for endometrial cancer than those who drank no coffee over a 20-year period. Decaffeinated coffee is believed to offer the same benefit.

Theory: Coffee helps metabolize sugar—thus fighting obesity, which plays a role in endometrial cancer.

If you're at risk for endometrial cancer (due to such factors as obesity and diabetes): Ask your doctor about drinking a few cups of coffee daily.

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