N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is a widely used antioxidant with therapeutic potential. However, the cancer-promoting effect of NAC observed in some preclinical studies has raised concerns regarding its clinical use. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) can mediate signaling that results in both cancer-promoting and cancer-suppressing effects. The beneficial effect of NAC may depend on whether the type of cancer relies on ROS signaling for its survival and metastasis. Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) has aggressive phenotypes and is currently treated with standard chemotherapy as the main systemic treatment option. Particularly, basal-like TNBC cells characterized by inactivated BRCA1
and mutated TP53
produce high ROS levels and rely on ROS signaling for their survival and malignant progression. In addition, the high ROS levels in TNBC cells can mediate the interplay between cancer cells and the tissue microenvironment (TME) to trigger the recruitment and conversion of stromal cells and induce hypoxic responses, thus leading to the creation of cancer-supportive TMEs and increased cancer aggressiveness. However, NAC treatment effectively reduces the ROS production and ROS-mediated signaling that contribute to cell survival, metastasis, and drug resistance in TNBC cells. Therefore, the inclusion of NAC in standard chemotherapy could probably provide additional benefits for TNBC patients.
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