New Study: Radiation Treatments Transform Breast Cancer Cells into More Aggressive and Resistant Cancer Stem Cells

By Monica Wilson on March 20, 2012

More than half of cancer patients are treated with radiation therapy. This treatment works by emitting high energy x-rays which destroy cancer cells and tumours in the affected organ. For many years, doctors have been recommending cancer patients to undergo radiation therapy as the last recourse to survive. But according to a new study, this treatment triggers the production of cancer cells which are 30 times MORE potent than the regular cancer cells.

Breast Cancer Responds Poorly to Radiation

There’s no doubt that the advancement in technology improved the quality of healthcare. Cancer, being one of the most threatening diseases in the past decades, can now be cured. Nonetheless, the modern treatments used today are not one hundred percent reliable as there are still many people who die from cancer. On the report released by Cancer Research UK, it was reported that the rate of cancer went up to 20%. There are 17 million more people who develop cancer, majority of which are middle-aged.  In 2008, there were 48,034 people diagnosed of breast cancer and 11,728 died in 2009.

Breast cancer stem cells are known to be the sole source of tumour reoccurrence and among all types of cancer; it doesn’t respond well to chemotherapy and other forms of radiation treatment. To strengthen this claim, a new research was published in the Stem Cell journal which reports, for the first time, that despite killing cancer cells, radiation treatments actually transform them into resistant cancer stem cells. That means even if the patient goes back to the same procedure, there’s a very little chance that the cancer will go away.

Radiation Causes Induced Breast Cancer Stem Cells (iBCSC)

The senior author of the study and associate professor of Radiation Oncology at the Jonsson Centre, together with his team, exposed normal non-stem cancer cells to radiation and placed them into the mice, forming the so called induced breast cancer stem cells (iBCSC). Using an imaging system, they observed how these cells responded to radiation. They found out that such radiation-induced cancer stem cells had 30-fold increase in its ability to create tumours as compared to non-irradiated cancer cells. Researchers suggested that controlling iBCSC during radiation treatments may improve curability and allow the reduction of radiation doses which are given to patients. This could then lessen its long-term adverse effects on health.

The study doesn’t intend to reject radiation treatments as a way to bust off cancer cells. Dr Pajonk believes the results can actually lead to the improvement of radiation procedures for safer and more successful treatments. He further added that breast cancer patients should not be alarmed of the study findings. They should still continue undergoing radiation if advised by their doctors.

Is There Any Better Option to Fight Breast Cancer?

Until radiation treatments have not been reformed, it will still scare many people most particularly those who have breast cancer. There are good alternatives however which many medical professionals seem to ignore. Many people tend to forget that the best line of defence against breast cancer or any other types of cancer is building a strong immune system. We all have cancer cells in our body. But our immune system is suppressing them from damaging our healthy cells. So when our immunity starts to decline, we become more susceptible to cancer.

To strengthen our immunity, lifestyle change is needed. Before someone reaches the stage of going through radiation, it is better to change unhealthy habits the soonest. That can be done by observing healthy diet. Many health experts are touting on healthy diet as the best way to fight cancer. There were numerous studies which were carried out in the past, demonstrating natural approach to cancer prevention and treatment. In the 2010 study conducted by researchers from University of Michigan for instance, it was found that broccoli has the ability to target cancer stem cells. Other foods that were found to have cancer-fighting properties are tomatoes, garlic, cruciferous vegetables – the list is endless. Side by side with health diet, regular physical workout is also necessary to strengthen our immunity.

These are ways that are way cheaper than chemotherapy and radiation treatment, but are the safest and most effective. Changing lifestyle patterns is not that easy but it can be done. And there’s no better time to do it than today.

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