What is the role of hyaluronic acid (HA) in cancer prevention and cancer growth?
Some studies show that specific cancers (e.g. pancreatic cancers) use hyaluronic acid as food. However, this is not very surprising. Cancer cells use a lot of substances that are present in the body or in our food to grow. For example, protein/amino acids make cancer cells grow faster (especially glutamate), as do B vitamins (especially folate), iron, antioxidants, sugar/carbs (cancer cells are very depended on sugar because of the Warburg effect) and so on.
This doesn’t automatically mean that taking hyaluronic acid (HA) increases the risk or spread of cancer.
In fact, in many ways hyaluronic acid could reduce the risk and spread of cancer.
HA is part of the extracellular matrix (ECM) which embeds and glues cells together.
For cancer to grow, and to metastasize, it needs to break free from the surrounding HA as much as possible.
We see that a strong ECM can protect against cancer, or reduce the spread of cancer cells.
For example, one of the reasons why naked mole rats have little cancer, is that they have lots of strong HA. See for example this study: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-16050-w
Studies also show that upregulating the production of HA increases lifespan. And that giving organisms HA in their food also extends lifespan.
It’s this not surprising that HA is involved in cancer, but in a good way: cancer tries to break down the HA to further grow and spread (metastasize).
This further explains why elevated levels of HA in the blood are associated with (more aggressive) cancer, given tumors break down the HA and fragments of HA end up in the blood.
On the other hand, tumor cells often secrete their own HA, to further grow and make the tumor more impenetrable to immune cells. And of course, some tumors can consume hyaluronic acid as food, just like many other substances in our body.
However, to prevent or reduce the risk of cancer, hyaluronic acid could actually play an important role, as studies demonstrate.