Newswise — University of Illinois researchers have found that liver metastases in breast cancer patients rely on increased amounts of glucose, indicating the possibility of a dietary intervention to reduce tumor burden and increase treatment efficacy.

Approximately one-third of breast cancer patients will develop metastatic disease, which commonly occurs in the bones, lung, and liver. These patients are often resistant to endocrine treatment and suffer from a reduced quality of life and poor survival rates. The researchers found that patients with liver metastases typically did not respond to the standard of care endocrine therapy, fulvestrant, very well. They set out to understand the drivers behind this resistance.

The researchers discovered that liver metastases decreased with carbohydrate levels and low-level carbohydrate diets restored the efficacy of fulvestrant in reducing metastatic tumor burden in mice.

As a cancer progresses, the tumor cells require new building blocks to divide and survive in different environments. These processes require extra generated energy, taking glucose and storing it as glycogen for the cell to use in times of stress, such as during treatment. 

“We are so excited about the possibilities, especially in terms of the dietary intervention. Low-carb diets can easily be tested in the clinic, and one of our near-future goals is to get this to clinical trials. An effective dietary intervention can be implemented by the patient, and without requiring travel to a medical center, says Zeynep Madak-Erdogan, Sylvia D. Stroup Scholar of Nutrition and Cancer, associate professor of food science and human nutrition, and Health Innovation Professor at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana.

Dr. Madak-Erdogan is also a Graduate College Faculty Fellow, Education Program Leader at the Cancer Center at Illinois, and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the Endocrine Society.