Studies have suggested that cancerous tissue has a lower 15N/14N ratio than benign tissue. However, human data have been inconclusive, possibly due to constraints on experimental design. Here, we used high-sensitivity nitrogen isotope methods to assess the 15N/14N ratio of human breast, lung, and kidney cancer tissue at unprecedented spatial resolution. In lung, breast, and urothelial carcinoma, 15N/14N was negatively correlated with tumor cell density. The magnitude of 15N depletion for a given tumor cell density was consistent across different types of lung cancer, ductal in situ and invasive breast carcinoma, and urothelial carcinoma, suggesting similar elevations in the anabolism-to-catabolism ratio. However, tumor 15N depletion was higher in a more aggressive metaplastic breast carcinoma. These findings may indicate the ability of certain cancers to more effectively channel N towards growth. Our results support 15N/14N analysis as a potential tool for screening biopsies and assessing N metabolism in tumor cells.
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