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According to recent research, traditional cancer treatments may actually invite the growth of cancer stem cells. These stem cells, just one type of cell found throughout cancerous tumors, promote tumor growth as well as the spread of cancer within the body.
Cancer stem cells have also shown the ability to be resistant to chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
"So radiation and chemotherapy not only might create cancer stem cells, any pre-existing cancer stem cells in a tumor were very resistant to radiation and chemotherapy, so they remain as well," says Dr. Chiang Li of Harvard Medical School. "This could help explain why these therapies are sometimes not as effective as we might hope."
These common cancer treatments have shown the ability to reduce overall tumor mass, but have not successfully reduced the number of cancer stem cells. This increases the ratio of stem cells to non-stem cells. As a result, tumors can actually become more malignant as treatment progresses.
Even if a tumor's size is greatly reduced, the remaining presence of stem cells can trigger a later, more deadly cancerous growth.
"If we are thinking about a way to get rid of the tumor forever, it's important to make sure that not only the bulk of the tumor disappears, but also the cancer stem cells," said María Vivanco of the Center for Cooperative Research in Biosciences in Bilbao, Spain. Vivanco and her colleagues studied the effects of estrogen on the development of breast cancer.
Cancer stem cells are also responsible for tumor progression, as they generate new cancer cells. Such progression increases risk of death. This process has been shown to occur despite chemotherapy treatment.
On the bright side, recent research on prostate cancer has described the discovery of cancer stem cells as the "Achilles' heel" of cancer.
"By targeting these newly identified cancer 'stem' cells, we are attacking the foundation of tumor growth, rather than treating the symptoms of it," said Dr. Josep Domingo-Domenech, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Pathology at Mount Sinai. By identifying cancer stem cells as the cause of cancer's spread and growth, researchers can now focus efforts on a way to inhibit their function in patients who've already been diagnosed with the deadly disease.
Fitness test versus cancer test
One of the challenges in health care is that patients wait until they are sick to take corrective steps. Cancer is a prime example. Thank goodness for the tests and research to treat cancer but we must not look past the importance of not getting it in the first place.
Instead of testing for cancer solely, perhaps we should be testing fitness, toxicity and nutrition.
Only 5-10 percent of all cancer diagnoses are hereditary or genetic. The remaining 90-95 percent of people can drastically reduce their risk of cancer by simply maintaining an active lifestyle, eating a plants-first diet and limiting their intake of toxic substances.
The body has a natural healing ability. Cells in the body have a limited life cycle – they die and are created. This is a key concept as the food that we eat, the activities that we do and the stress that we experience will impact the health of the future cells.
A healthier lifestyle equals healthier cells and a reduced risk of developing cancer and other lifestyle-caused conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
Dr. Cory Couillard is an international healthcare speaker and columnist for numerous newspapers, magazines, websites and publications throughout the world. He works in collaboration with the World Health Organization's goals of disease prevention and global healthcare education. Views do not necessarily reflect endorsement.
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