Mifepristone, a drug used for termination of early pregnancies, might be helpful to prevent the development of breast tumors. Scientists reported this from the University of California, whose work has been published in the journal, 'Science'.
Mifepristone or RU486 is a licensed drug that blocks the hormone progesterone. In pregnancy, progesterone is the hormone that helps to maintain pregnancy. If it is depleted the developing fetus can get expelled from the body.
The recent research shows that if the progesterone levels are reduced, then tumor cells get adversely affected and stop growing. This discovery may be helpful to tackle breast cancer and also ovarian cancer.
Scientists are now aware of a gene BRCA-1, which helps to suppress tumor formation. Some women have flaws in this gene, in their chromosomes. Such women are seen to be more prone to develop breast tumors and ovarian tumors. It is seen that over 50% of women with this defective gene ultimately end up with cancer by the time they reach the age of seventy.
Recent studies done in mice have shown that, tumors in women with this defective gene are triggered off by progesterone. Mice with defective gene BRCA-1 were given Mifepristone. Cancerous cells did not develop in them even after one year. But quite surprisingly, all the mice to which the drug was not administered, suffered from tumors by the time they were 8 months old.
The lead researcher Eva Lee divulged that, the researchers found out that progesterone promotes the growth of mammary cells, which carries the flawed gene. The drug mifepristone can block progesterone levels and thus decelerate the growth of cancer cells. The researchers are no doubt, very excited about this discovery as it has opened new vistas for women with a high genetic risk of cancer.
More research will be required to develop a more targeted and safer version of progesterone, before it is used as an anti cancer drug.
This research has faced stiff opposition from groups of people who resist the idea of medical termination of pregnancies, using drugs.