Estrogen may fuel mouth and oral cavity cancer

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Women who take estrogen could be at high risk for oral cancer find researchers.

In a new study, scientists from Fox Chase Cancer Center find precancerous cells in the mouth and surrounding tissues are fueled and can spread from estrogen that induces the expression of an enzyme called cytochrome P450 1B1 (CYP1B1), turning pre-cancerous cells into cancer.

In the study, the scientists found when the expression of CYP1B1 is depleted, precancerous cells were unable to move, divide and spread throughout the oral cavity. An interesting finding was that estrogen did not influence CYP1B1 expression cancer cells, only those that were considered precancerous.

Ekaterina Shatalova, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at Fox Chase Cancer Center and study researchers says, “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.”

Normally, precancerous cells in the mouth would die. The researchers also noted that estrogen reduced cell death, regardless of the amount of the CYP1B1 enzyme.


A past study that appeared June 2010 from Fox Chase scientists showed estrogen leads to metabolism changes following smoke exposure that might lead to lung cancer.

Margie Clapper, Ph.D., co-leader of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program at Fox Chase Cancer Center and Cancer Prevention Research editorial board member and colleagues found the link between estrogen changes that contribute to lung cancer.

She says, “Our previous studies showed that the CYP1B1 enzyme sits at the hub of changes that occur in the lungs after smoke exposure. We were now able to look at its role in a more direct fashion by removing it from precancerous cells of the oral cavity.”

The findings mean the researchers may have found a way to stop precancerous mouth lesions from turning into cancer. Clapper says, “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.” Cells lacking the CYP1B1 enzyme move slower she explains.

Tobacco and alcohol exposure contribute to cancer of the mouth and oral cavity. The researchers say the new findings that estrogen fuels the spread of cancer, turning precancerous lesions into full-blown cancer cells, provides new insight that could help patients survive the sixth most common type of cancer that strikes 650,000 individuals annually.

AACR Press Release