One of the toughest decisions cancer patients have to face upon the discovery that they have cancer is the manner of treatment they’re supposed to take. And despite the numerous negative complaints about it, Chemotherapy is still being proposed and chosen by a lot of cancer patients to treat or cure their cancer.
Admittedly, the side effects of chemotherapy are notorious. Vomiting, falling hair, numbness, loss of appetite, even brain damage – you name it! But there’s one big side effect of chemotherapy that is showing up in a lot of studies lately – that it can actually trigger the spread of cancer into nearby areas of the body.
A study conducted by researchers from the Ohio State University, U.S.A showed how chemotherapy triggers specific cellular responses that galvanize the spread of the cancerous cells. Since previous studies indicated that chemotherapy leads to cellular changes in breast cancer patients, the researchers decided to explore the effects of the very common chemotherapy drug Paclitaxel on several breast cancer patients. And since the lungs were the closest organ to the breasts, they included that too in the study.
What the Ohio University researchers discovered was that breast cancer patients who were given paclitaxel chemotherapy had “overexpressed Atf3 genes”, perhaps activated by stress. Those patients who didn’t receive chemo didn’t have an overexpression of this gene.
What kind of damage does this overexpressed gene do to the body? First, it distributes the cancer cells throughout the lungs. Secondly, it prepares the target cancerous area to boost the malfunctioning cells’ chances of surviving and thriving.
In short, the chemotherapy actually has a carcinogenic effect on the body by activating this gene. Once activated, the patients’ bodies are now conducive to cancer.
Tsonwin Hai, the study’s senior author, said: “That chemotherapy can paradoxically promote cancer progression is an emerging revelation in cancer research. However, a molecular-level understanding of this devastating effect is not clear.”
Hai does not believe that the cancer cells traveling into the bloodstream due to leaky vessels are not a passive occurrence. She believes that an “active biological process” triggers the cancerous cells to escape into the patient’s blood.
Past Studies on Chemotherapy’s Ability to Spread Cancer
There have been many previous studies which show that chemotherapy shrinks tumors in the short-term, but then raises the chances of the cancerous cells migrating to other parts of the body. At the same time that chemotherapy is applied to the body, there might also be a triggering mechanism by which the cancerous cells seem to grow back stronger than ever.
Researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine did find a sort of “triggering mechanism” from chemotherapy that spurred the growth of cancerous cells. They discovered that patients given two common chemotherapy drugs experienced an increase in the number of “doors” or “conduits” into blood vessels that helped facilitate the spread of cancer throughout the body. Their discovery was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
Hai encouraged the medical community to keep an open mind about chemotherapy – that it is a double-edged sword which helps kill cancerous cells, but at the same time, elevates the chances of spreading it.