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Cancer can return turbocharged by stem cells

20th March 2018

A study into molecular and cancer stem cell biology has shown how tumours adapt and 'tool-up' to overcome treatment, leading to relapse in patients.

In the journal Clinical Cancer Research, the University of Colorado Cancer Center outlined how a tumour became more invasive and aggressive over three stages of treatment.

A sample taken during the patient's first surgery contained 0.2 per cent cancer stem cells, which rose 4.5 per cent by the patient's third surgery.

This last sample had overall 50 per cent more cancer-driving mutations, and lower activity of genes meant to suppress cancer.

In short, this means that a tumour that recurs after treatment may be very different to one originally observed in a biopsy.

Daniel Bowles, clinical and translational investigator at the University of Colorado Cancer Center and head of cancer research at the Denver Veterans Administration Medical Center, compared cancer treatment to attacking a garden weed.

“Maybe what's happening is the therapies are exfoliating the plant but not affecting the root," he explained.

While cancer therapies may kill the bulk of the cells that make up a tumour, it may return if cancer stem cells – or the "root" – is unaffected.

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