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Breast cancer and sense of smell.

About half of all breast cancers are estrogen-receptor positive, meaning the tumor cells require estrogen to grow. Women with estrogen-positive (ER+) breast cancers have a slight but statistically significant loss of their sense of smell, according to a report in the Aug. 10 LANCET from the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

Steven Lehrer and his colleagues looked at 25 women with ER+ breast cancers, 21 women with estrogen-receptor negative (ER-) cancers and 46 cancer-free women matched with these two groups for age, sex, race and smoking habits. Four ER+ women and five ER- women had received chemotherapy; none had received radiation treatments to the head.

The ER+ women scored significantly lower than the ER- and control groups on a sophisticated and sensitive scratch-and-sniff test. The difference didn't represent functional impairmant, and, says Lehrer, "the women didn't seem to notice."

The biological connection between ER+ breast cancer and sense of smell may lie in the pineal gland, a small organ in the brain that secrets the hormone melatonin in response to day length. In rats, removing the pineal gland or inhibiting melatonin can induce mammary tumors; the nightly melatonin peak in women with ER+ breast cancer is lower than in other women.

"Perhaps," the researchers suggest, "both the pineal and olfactory abnormalities observed in women with ER+ breast cancer result from a single underlying defect." What it means in terms of treatment "is difficult to say," notes Lehrer. Perhaps, he speculates, a sense-of-smell test may prove a good screen.
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Title Annotation:statistically significant loss of smell in breast cancer patients
Publication:Science News
Date:Sep 7, 1985
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