Chemotherapy May Awaken Dormant Cancer Cells, Trigger Breast Cancer Recurrence
Chemotherapy may awaken dormant cancer cells

A team of researchers at Emory University, US, has found new targets for preventing breast cancer recurrence.

Breast cancer is easiest to treat when it is detected early in the localized stage. Early treatment can help prevent the cancer from progressing, and, in many cases, cure or cause the cancer to go into complete remission. But some people may experience a recurrence. Available data suggests up to 23% of patients experience breast cancer recurrence within the first five years.

Recurrent breast cancer occurs when something activates the dormant cancer cells (which may be hiding nearby in the breast or in another part of your body) and they begin to grow and spread to other parts of the body. Factors that are known to increase the risk of breast cancer recurrence include: younger age, larger tumors, involvement of lymph nodes, inflammatory breast cancer, triple negative breast cancer, obesity, not receiving radiation therapy or endocrine therapy.

Chemotherapy injury to non-cancer cells may also trigger breast cancer recurrence, as revealed by a study recently published in the open access journal PLOS Biology.

A deleterious effect of cancer chemotherapy revealed

The study by Dr. Ramya Ganesan of Emory University, US, and colleagues suggested that a standard chemotherapy drug can cause injuries to the surrounding non-cancer cells, which can then awaken dormant cancer cells and promote cancer growth.

Chemotherapy treatment is used to kill all cancer cells, but often, some cells enter a state of dormancy. The researchers found that chemotherapy drug docetaxel can injure stromal cells (connective tissue cells that are found in breast and other tissue) even at very low doses.

This caused the injured stromal cells to release two key cell signaling molecules, granulocyte colony stimulating factor (G-CSF) and interleukin-6 (IL-6), that trigger the growth of the dormant cells.

This led to the finding of new anti-cancer targets. They also found that antibodies that neutralized either G-CSF or IL-6, or a drug that blocked the mediator of those signals within cancer cells, inhibited awakening from dormancy.

Dr. Ganesan suggested that transient blockade of cytokine signaling during chemotherapy administration may prevent tumor recurrence.

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