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Cancer. 1991 Dec 1;68(11):2407-10.

Iron enhances tumor growth. Observation on spontaneous mammary tumors in mice.

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Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


Iron is essential for the growth of all cells, including tumor cells. The authors previously reported that a variety of transplantable tumors grew faster and larger in mice that were on an iron-rich diet compared with those on an iron-deficient diet. In this study the authors examined the relationship between iron in the diet and development of tumors in mice that are known to develop spontaneous tumors--C3H/HeN-MTV+(C3H-MTV+) mice that were congenitally infected with mammary tumor virus. These mice have a greater than 96% chance of developing mammary tumors between the ages of 7.2 and 9.2 months. Fifteen C3H-MTV+ weanlings were given a low-iron diet (5 mg iron/kg diet), and 15 were given diets with normal amounts of iron (180 mg Fe/kg diet). Thirteen of the 15 mice from the low-iron group and all 15 mice from the normal-iron group developed tumors. The average tumor growth rate in the normal-iron group was 112%/wk, compared with 62%/wk for the low-iron group. The difference in tumor growth rate between the two groups was significant (P = 0.02 by Student's t test). In this study, low iron intake did not prevent tumor development, but the results confirm the authors' previous report that iron nutrition of the host affects tumor growth; tumors grow better in an iron-rich environment. High levels of iron in the diet may enhance tumor growth, and this should be considered when treating patients with cancer.

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