Chemotherapy Can Trigger Cancer Resistance

By Amir Khan on August 6, 2012 11:36 AM EDT

Cancer
Chemotherapy can undermine itself and lose effectiveness, which explains why some people become resistant to the treatment, according to a new study (Photo: Reuters)

Chemotherapy can undermine itself and lose effectiveness, which explains why some people become resistant to the treatment, according to a new study, published in the journal Nature Medicine. Researchers said the findings can help stop this process and increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy can cause wound-healing cells to release a protein that makes tumors resistant to the treatment. The protein is known to be important in cancer development, but this is the first time it's been seen in treatment resistance.

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In the study, researchers looked at fibroblast cells, which play a role in wound healing. However, chemotherapy damages these cells and causes them to produce up to 30 times more of the healing protein than they normally do, which heals cancer cells and starts chemotherapy resistance.

"This work fits with other research showing that cancer treatments don't just affect cancer cells, but can also target cells in and around tumors," Fran Balkwill, with Cancer Research UK, told BBC News. "Sometimes this can be good - for instance, chemotherapy can stimulate surrounding healthy immune cells to attack tumors. But this work confirms that healthy cells surrounding the tumor can also help the tumor to become resistant to treatment."

Approximately 90 percent of people with solid cancers, including breast, prostate, lung and colon, develop resistance to chemotherapy. The treatment is given slowly, so the body doesn't become overwhelm by the toxic chemicals. However, this time off between treatments allows the tumors to heal and develop resistance.

Researchers said the findings could lead to better chemotherapy treatments.

"The next step is to find ways to target these resistance mechanisms to help make chemotherapy more effective," Balkwill said.

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