There is a new evidence that shows us a different perspective regarding cancer cells. We’ve thought that cancer grows fast and it can’t be easily controlled, but Francesco Crea, Lecturer in Life Sciences with The Open University, has gathered information on different new studies and explains that cancer can also stay dormant for years, using periods of “acceleration” and “brake” to survive in time.
For example, prostate tumor progressed differently over the years. The cancers cells have a period of rapid growth and periods of “hibernation”. When the tumor shows signs, the patient gets treatment, usually surgery cutting out the tumor. In some patients, cancer returns and they receive hormone therapy or chemotherapy. But sometimes, after a period of dormancy, cancer can recur. And that could mean years after therapy, with no symptoms of recurring.
Here is where Francesco Crea, his team, and other scientists have researched information on cancer dormancy.
Cancer Cells Need to Deceive the Immune System
The first phase in tumor progression is for cancer cells to trick the immune system so that tumors cannot be eliminated. Then, cancer struggles to survive therapies and in the last phase, the cells start invading organs to generate metastases.
For all these stages, cancer needs to ‘sleep’, to reshape itself and get ready for the next stage. Without dormancy, cancer cells cannot survive and are easily attacked by the immune system and the new environment which received treatment.
This is why scientists need to learn to detect dormant cancer cells and kill them before they become stronger. But it’s a difficult task, because dormant tumors are very small and, because they don’t produce symptoms, diagnostic tools cannot ‘see’ them and patients have no clue that they have cancer.
When they are dormant, cancer cells have a slow metabolism, making PET scans overlook the tumors.
There is a Way to Detect The ‘Sleeping’ Cancer
Crea’s research and the BC Cancer Agency in Canada have started looking at the RNA produced by cancer cells that are dormant. RNA carries genetic information from DNA to proteins. Some of the RNAs are expressed by the cancer cells that lay dormant. The good news is that RNAs can be found in samples of blood and urine and this means the scientists can start developing a diagnostic tool to detect the molecules.
Identifying the dormant cells is the first step toward finding a way in targeting and eliminating them.
Now the research has to have its results confirmed in clinical trials.
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.