This Standard Cancer Treatment Might Be Making Patients Sicker


Chemotherapy remains the standard treatment for cancer but what if this method is making patients sicker? A new study found that chemotherapy may trigger malignant tumors to spread all over the body.

The study, which was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, found that chemotherapy allows cancer cells to travel to various parts of the body, spreading tumor growth in far flung sites.

Lead author Dr. George Karagiannis of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, New York, said it is important to develop a safer chemotherapy treatment in the near future to save more lives.


Chemotherapy: The Devil is in the Details

Preoperative chemotherapy — also known as neoadjuvant chemotherapy — is a standard treatment protocol given before surgery in the hope it will shrink tumors to the point that follow-up surgery will not be as invasive (an example is where a lumpectomy can be used, instead of a full mastectomy). But a new study in the journal Science Translational Medicine has found that this practice may actually add fuel to the fire and promote the spread of cancer to other regions of the body, thereby significantly increasing the risk of dying from the disease.

“Called ‘tumor microenvironments of metastasis,’ these on-ramps are sites on blood vessels that special immune cells flock to. If the immune cells hook up with a tumor cell, they usher it into a blood vessel like a Lyft picking up a passenger. Since blood vessels are the highways to distant organs, the result is metastasis, or the spread of cancer to far-flung sites.” [source]

In the study, mice with breast cancer who were given chemotherapy, had double the number of cancer cells in the lungs and bloodstream, compared to mice that did not receive the treatment. Moreover, scientists found that chemotherapy made blood vessels more permeable to cancer cells. Immune cells that transport cancer cells also increased.

Chemotherapy has been found to promote cancer spread in humans as well. In twenty patients who received chemotherapy drugs, it was discovered that tumor microenvironments became increasingly favorable for cancer metastasis. According to The Telegraph:

“It is thought the toxic medication switches on a repair mechanism in the body which ultimately allows tumors to grow back stronger. It also increases the number of ‘doorways’ on blood vessels which allow cancer to spread throughout the body.”

Lead researcher of the animal study, Dr George Karagiannis, of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, New York, believes the findings will be an important component of how to create safer chemotherapy treatments in the future.

Image courtesy of: Court Roberts

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