Authors: L.J. Armstrong, S.M. Gorski, The Genome Sciences Centre, British Columbia Cancer Agency, Vancouver, BC, Canada and others
Abstract: Stress on a cellular level can have detrimental effects on an organism and has been implicated in many different diseases, including cancer. Breast cancer, one of the most prevalent forms of the disease, is often initiated by abnormal cellular mechanisms and damage to DNA brought about by different types of cellular stress. One method of minimizing damage caused by stress is a process that occurs within the cell known as autophagy. Autophagy is a catabolic process in which old and damaged components of the cell are degraded into their elemental forms and recycled in order to synthesize additional proteins and energy. Recently a gene involved in the regulation of autophagy was found to be altered in breast cancer cells, leading researchers to hypothesize that autophagy may play a pivotal role in the disease; however the definite role that autophagy plays in breast cancer is still unclear. Some evidence suggests that autophagy acts as a tumour suppressor and should be stimulated to decrease the incidence of cancer in breast cells. Other evidence indicates that autophagy’s survival effects may actually help breast cancer cells persist and contribute to chemotherapy resistance in the body. With increasing experimental evidence supporting each claim, it may be that the role of autophagy varies depending on the particular type of tumour and the stage of disease progression. Establishing an accurate link between autophagy and breast cancer is therefore a very important objective that could eventually lead to significant therapeutic implications.
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