More than 70% of adults in the USA are obese or overweight. Obesity is a known risk factor for 13 types of cancer. This includes postmenopausal breast cancer. Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the USA. It affects 1 in 8 women and leads to more than 40,000 deaths a year. Obesity is associated with a 30-50% increase in breast cancer incidence.
The expanded fat pad in obese patients surrounds breast cancer cells and supports cancer growth. However, we do not yet understand how the presence of breast cancer cells changes the surrounding fat pad, and how this, in turn, supports cancer growth. We propose that there is a reciprocal cross-talk between breast cancer cells and the cells of the surrounding fat pad, and that breast cancer cells secrete factors to generate tumor-supporting cells.
Our goal is to identify these secreted factors using functional studies and mass spectrometry approaches. We will investigate the underlying mechanism of how these factors change the fat pad. Finally, we will determine the functional importance of these changes to breast cancer cell growth. We envision that our discoveries will have a major impact on obese and overweight women at elevated risk of breast cancer. In the immediate future, our discoveries highlighting the dangerous cross-talk between breast cancer cells and the surrounding obese fat pad could lead to dietary interventions and weight-loss counseling. Long-term, we are excited by the possibility that our discoveries will lead to novel screening and therapeutic strategies.