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Study: Hot chili pepper component slows growth and kills laboratory-grown breast cancer cells


This research is relevant for:

Unhecked Breast cancer survivors

Unhecked Women under 45

Unhecked Women over 45

Unhecked Men with breast cancer

Unhecked Metastatic breast cancer

Checked Triple negative breast cancer

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Unhecked BRCA mutation carriers

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Unhecked Her2+ breast cancer

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Finding new treatments that target triple-negative breast cancer is an area of great interest. An early step in developing these treatments is learning more about the biology of tumor in the laboratory. This study looked at how capsaicin, the spicy component of chili peppers, might work with a protein found in many cancers, including triple-negative breast cancer, to stop cancer cell growth. This is the first step in a long process towards developing new treatments for triple-negative breast cancer. (2/14/17)


STUDY AT A GLANCE

This study is about:

Early research showing potential ways to stop triple-negative breast cancer cells from growing in the laboratory.

Why is this study important?

Preliminary laboratory studies like these are important because they help researchers to understand how breast cancer cells differ from normal cells and to identify new drugs to treat the cancer.

Study findings: 

  1. TRPV1, a protein that has been shown to be involved in cancer growth, was found in 49 different breast cancer cells grown in the laboratory and in 11 tumor samples from breast cancer patients.
  2. Triple-negative breast cancer samples had the most TRPV1 protein.
  3. Capsaicin, the spicy component of chili peppers, worked with TRPV1 protein in the laboratory grown triple-negative breast cancer cells to restrict their growth and cause them to die.

What does this mean for me?

This is very early research that could lead to new treatments. Laboratory studies like this one must be confirmed by more research and then tested in patients through clinical trials before they become part of recommended treatment. This study does not mean that chili peppers prevent or help treat cancer. 

While this study is not ready for clinical trials, many open trials are studying ways to treat all stages of triple-negative breast cancer. For now, patients with triple-negative breast cancer should talk to their health care providers about treatment options and discuss whether or not a clinical trial is a good option. In addition, all women with triple-negative breast cancer before age 60 meet national guidelines for genetic counseling and testing for mutations in BRCA or other genes that increase cancer risk.

Questions to ask your health care provider:

  • I have triple-negative breast cancer; should I consider genetic testing?
  • I have triple-negative breast cancer; should I consider a clinical trial?
  • I have triple-negative breast cancer and a mutation in the BRCA gene; what treatment should I consider?
  • What genetic markers is my tumor being tested for?
  • What is the difference between testing for genetic markers in my tumor and testing for gene mutations in my blood, cheek swab or saliva sample?

IN DEPTH REVIEW OF RESEARCH

Study background:

The TRPV1 protein detects harmful heat and helps pathways in your body to control pain relating to temperature changes. Extremely hot temperatures, acidic conditions and capsaicin, the spicy component of chili peppers, activate TRPV1. Previous researchers found that TRPV1 is involved in the growth of cancers, such as colon and pancreatic. However, it has not been studied as much in breast cancer, and its role in all of these cancers is not well understood.

Lea Weber and colleagues from Ruhr University Bochum and other institutions published work in the journal Breast Cancer: Targets and Therapy in December 2016 to try and understand if and how TRPV1 protein is involved in breast cancer.

Researchers of this study wanted to know:

Is TRPV1 involved in breast cancer?

Population(s) looked at in the study:

This study included tumors from 11 different breast cancer patients and 49 different types of breast cancer cells grown in the laboratory.

Study findings: 

  1. TRPV1, a protein that has been shown to be involved in cancer growth, was found in 49 different breast cancer cells grown in the laboratory and 11 tumor samples from breast cancer patients.
  2. Triple-negative breast cancer samples had the most TRPV1 protein.
  3. Capsaicin, the spicy component of chili peppers, activates the TRPV1 protein. Adding capsaicin to triple-negative breast cancer cells slowed their growth and caused them to die. 

Limitations:

While these findings are interesting, they come from a very early research study. The capsaicin treatment was used on cells grown in the laboratory, not on mice or humans. More work is needed to find out if this treatment works in animal models of breast cancer before it can be tested for human safety and effectiveness. At this time, we do not know if the lab response would be duplicated in human breast cancer patients.

It is also critical to understand that this experiment used pure capsaicin, the spicy component of chili peppers, which was likely much stronger than one would consume by eating chili peppers.  The research does not show if consuming chili peppers would have any effect.  This means that this study does not identify capsaicin as an ingredient to help people lower their breast cancer risk, treat breast cancer, or help prevent recurrence.   

Conclusions:

This research is an early study that suggests the TRPV1 protein may play a role in breast cancer, especially triple-negative breast cancer, because it was found in all of the breast cancer cells grown in the laboratory and from patient tumor samples. It also showed that adding capsaicin, the spicy component of chili peppers, helped stop the triple-negative breast cancer cells from growing. However, because this is very early research done in cells grown in the laboratory, much more work needs to be done before this can be applied in a health care setting. Women interested in participating in trials looking at new treatments for breast cancer are encouraged to ask their health care providers about clinical trials or visit the Research section of the FORCE website.

Reports of this research have been widely shared on social media.  Snopes, a website that validates or debunks news stories, has also stated that the claim that “capsaicin, the spice-causing molecule in chili peppers, can help beat breast cancer,” is unproven.

Posted 2/14/17

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References

Weber LV, Al-Refae K, Wolk G, et al. “Expression and functionality of TRPV1 in breast cancer cells.” Breast Cancer: Targets and Therapy, Volume 8 (2016): 243-252.  

Capsaicin Application.” Snopes.com. 

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