Open Access Open Badges Research article

“Iron-saturated” bovine lactoferrin improves the chemotherapeutic effects of tamoxifen in the treatment of basal-like breast cancer in mice

Xueying Sun13, Ruohan Jiang1, Aneta Przepiorski1, Shiva Reddy1, Kate P Palmano2 and Geoffrey W Krissansen1*

Author affiliations

1 Department of Molecular Medicine & Pathology, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, University of Auckland, Auckland, 1005, New Zealand

2 Fonterra Research Centre, Palmerston North, 4442, New Zealand

3 Department of General Surgery, The Hepatosplenic Surgery Center, The First Affiliated Hospital of Harbin Medical University, Harbin, 150001, China

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Citation and License

BMC Cancer 2012, 12:591  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-12-591

Published: 11 December 2012



Tamoxifen is used in hormone therapy for estrogen-receptor (ER)-positive breast cancer, but also has chemopreventative effects against ER-negative breast cancers. This study sought to investigate whether oral iron-saturated bovine lactoferrin (Fe-Lf), a natural product which enhances chemotherapy, could improve the chemotherapeutic effects of tamoxifen in the treatment of ER-negative breast cancers.


In a model of breast cancer prevention, female Balb/c mice treated with tamoxifen (5 mg/Kg) were fed an Fe-Lf supplemented diet (5 g/Kg diet) or the base diet. At week 2, 4T1 mammary carcinoma cells were injected into an inguinal mammary fat pad. In a model of breast cancer treatment, tamoxifen treatment was not started until two weeks following tumor cell injection. Tumor growth, metastasis, body weight, and levels of interleukin 18 (IL-18) and interferon γ (IFN-γ) were analyzed.


Tamoxifen weakly (IC50 ~ 8 μM) inhibited the proliferation of 4T1 cells at pharmacological concentrations in vitro. In the tumor prevention study, a Fe-Lf diet in combination with tamoxifen caused a 4 day delay in tumor formation, and significantly inhibited tumor growth and metastasis to the liver and lung by 48, 58, and 66% (all P < 0.001), respectively, compared to untreated controls. The combination therapy was significantly (all P < 0.05) more effective than the respective monotherapies. Oral Fe-Lf attenuated the loss of body weight caused by tamoxifen and cancer cachexia. It prevented tamoxifen-induced reductions in serum levels of IL-18 and IFN-γ, and intestinal cells expressing IL-18 and IFN-γ. It increased the levels of Lf in leukocytes residing in gut-associated lymphoid tissues. B, T and Natural killer (NK) cells containing high levels of Lf were identified in 4T1 tumors, suggesting they had migrated from the intestine. Similar effects of Fe-Lf and tamoxifen on tumor cell viability were seen in the treatment of established tumors.


The results indicate that Fe-Lf is a potent natural adjuvant capable of augmenting the chemotherapeutic activity of tamoxifen. It could have application in delaying relapse in tamoxifen-treated breast cancer patients who are at risk of developing ER-negative tumors.

Breast cancer; Iron-saturated lactoferrin; Tamoxifen; Immune enhancement; Mice