Chemotherapy has long been considered an effective treatment against cancer. However, a recent study has suggested otherwise: according to researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, chemotherapy may actually help spread the disease.
For the purposes of their study, the researchers analyzed the effects of chemotherapy on patients who were diagnosed with breast cancer. Although the treatment was found to be effective in shrinking tumors, this was only for the short term. They discovered that the drugs used in chemotherapy could, in fact, encourage the spread and growth of cancer cells throughout the body.
The researchers noted that, apart from increasing the chances of cancer cells moving to another part of the body, the drugs could also provoke a repair mechanism. This mechanism works two ways: first, it could allow the tumors to grow back stronger; secondly, it could increase the amount of blood vessel “doorways” that would make it easier for the cancer cells to spread.
This particular effect was notable in 20 patients who were receiving two commonly used chemotherapy drugs, paclitaxel and doxorubicin. Both paclitaxel and doxorubicin work by blocking cancer cell growth. Doxorubicin is typically used alongside other chemotherapy medication, in this case cyclophosphamide.
Lead author Dr. George Karagiannis further added that, in mice, breast cancer chemotherapy raised the number of cancer cells moving around the lungs and the rest of the body.
Speaking to the Telegraph.co.uk, Karagiannis remarked that he and his colleagues plan on undertaking more research into the effects of chemotherapy. “We are currently planning more extensive trials to address the issue,” Karagiannis stated. “In this study we only investigated chemotherapy-induced cancer cell dissemination in breast cancer. We are currently working on other types of cancer to see if similar effects are elicited.”
What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is a form of cancer treatment that uses strong drugs to combat the disease. For some people, chemotherapy is the only treatment they receive, while others undergo chemotherapy in conjunction with surgery and radiation therapy. There are hundreds of chemotherapy drugs on the market with a variety of uses. Certain chemotherapy drugs are used to slow growth, while others prevent cancer cells from spreading; others are given to patients to help them deal with the side effects of cancer.
Although thought of as “safe,” chemotherapy itself comes with numerous, dangerous side effects. The most common of these are hair loss, nausea, bone marrow changes, fertility problems, and affected memory and thinking.
Because of these side effects, many people believe chemotherapy to a gamble, if not an outright sham.
In addition to the recent study by Karagiannis and his colleagues, a 2012 study came to a similar conclusion. Researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle discovered that chemotherapy turned healthy cells into cells that supported cancerous ones. Specifically, they found that healthy cells that have been exposed to chemotherapy secrete a protein (WNT16B) that encourages aggressive tumor growth.
The researchers themselves called their findings nothing less than “completely unexpected,” and stated that they came to these findings by scrutinizing patients with prostate cancer, breast cancer, and ovarian cancer.
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