BUFFALO, NY -- Exposure to air pollution early in life and when a woman gives birth to her first child may alter her DNA and may be associated with premenopausal breast cancer later in life, researchers at the University at Buffalo have shown.The findings indicated that higher air pollution exposure at birth may alter DNA methylation, which may increase levels of E-cadherin, a protein important to the adhesion of cells, a function that plays an essential role in maintaining a stable cellular environment and assuring healthy tissues.
Methylation is a chemical process that has been implicated in determining which genes in a cell are active, a process essential to normal cellular function.
Women with breast cancer who lived in a region with more air pollution were more likely to have the alteration in the DNA in their tumor than those who lived in a less-polluted region, results showed.
Higher air pollution concentration at the time of first child birth also was associated with changes in p16, a gene involved in tumor suppression, according to findings.
Results of the research were presented April 6 at the 2011 American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.
Lead investigator Katharine Dobson, MPH, an epidemiology doctoral student and research assistant in UB's Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, says of the findings: "To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine exposure to ambient air pollution at key points in a woman's lifetime.
"The investigation looked for an association between exposure to pollution and alterations to DNA that influence the presence or absence of key proteins. Such genetic changes are thought to be major contributors to cancer development and progression, including at very early stages," Dobson says.
The study is based on data from the Western New York Exposures and Breast Cancer (WEB) study, which collected information from 1,1
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