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  [ 105 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ] • July 23, 2003

Researchers believe that higher total cysteine levels may be associated with a lower risk of breast cancer, according to a study presented yesterday at the 94th Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). Cysteine, an amino acid, is the precursor to glutathione (a powerful antioxidant and important detoxifying agent). Glutathione is used to cleanse the body of harmful toxins. N-acetylcysteine, a synthetic precursor of cysteine, is commonly used as a mucolytic agent and as an antidote against acetaminophen-induced hepatotoxicity.

Women in the highest level of plasma cysteine group had a significant 56 percent reduction in risk of developing breast cancer as compared with those in the lowest level group. The association was not significantly altered by any other major risk factors related to breast cancer, except that a stronger association was observed among leaner women.

"The findings suggest that higher levels of total cysteine may predict a reduced risk for breast cancer," said Dr. Shumin Zhang, of Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and Harvard School of Public Health, and lead investigator on the study. "Based on these results, we are hopeful that cysteine or its precursors may have potential chemopreventive benefits against breast cancer."

(Source: Harvard Medical School's Consumer Health information, at

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