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Why chemotherapy fails
Date:5/29/2012

The fight against cancer is not won in a single battle: Long after a cancer has been beaten into remission, it can return. The reason for this is under debate, and much is unclear. New research led by Weizmann Institute scientists shows that, at least for one type of blood cancer, the source of cancer recurrence is in a set of cells that do not proliferate as quickly as regular cancer cells, and thus able to survive chemotherapy. The findings, which appeared today in the journal Blood, have some important implications for the future of the war on cancer.

Cancer involves a breakdown in the mechanism that regulates the pace of cell division. When this happens, cells divide rapidly, leading to unchecked growth that overruns the body. The most common chemotherapy drugs are those which specifically attack cells that are undergoing rapid division, and these, indeed, often destroy all the cancer and cure the patient.

But there are also quite a few leukemia patients who go through chemotherapy only to have the cancer return. Why does this happen? Several explanations have been proposed. One is that the chemotherapy does not kill every last cancer cell, leaving a few to continue dividing out of control until the disease returns in full force. A second explanation proposes that chemotherapy does get all the regular cancer cells, but there is another type of cancer cell that hides in the body. As opposed to the rapidly dividing majority of cancer cells, these undergo slow division, enabling them to evade the chemotherapy drugs. These insidious cells can give rise to new rapidly-dividing cancer cells, which is why they are known as "cancer stem cells."

Which explanation is correct? The debate is an important one because, if the first explanation holds true, improving upon the existing treatments might help, while the second implies that a completely different approach to treatment will be needed to root out the slowly dividing cancer ste
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Contact: Yivsam Azgad
news@weizmann.ac.il
972-893-43856
Weizmann Institute of Science
Source:Eurekalert

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