UK-funded scientists from the University of Sheffield have discovered that the drug used to prevent certain parts of the immune system from over-reacting might actually help in preventing cancer from reoccurring. If the drug is administered along with chemotherapy, the re-growth of cancerous tumors might be prevented completely.

Problems Of Treating Cancer With Chemotherapy

According to Dr Áine McCarthy, Science Communications Officer at Cancer Research UK, chemotherapy is the primary and basic treatment for cancer. Despite saving many lives every year, the tumors do develop again in certain patients, limiting the chances of survival. Even though the reason for relapse cannot be explained, however, the role of the immune system in tumor growth might be a key factor to investigate this phenomenon.

Lead scientist Professor Claire Lewis from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Oncology stated that scientists already knew the ability of the immune system to go into overdrive in response to tissue damage, resulting in more damage rather than healing. According to their research, chemotherapy can also stimulate this aspect of the immune system, indirectly promoting tumor re-growth.

As explained in the study, published in Cancer Research, “Combining chemotherapy with a drug that switches off this part of the body’s repair system slowed the growth of tumors after chemotherapy. This could be significantly important for patients who can’t undergo surgery and, hence, require chemotherapy to help them live for as long as possible”.

Results Of The Study: Most Effective Technique In Preventing Tumors

Researchers found that the cancer-killing mechanism of chemotherapy could trigger a load of white blood cells – M2 macrophages – to swarm the wounded area in an attempt to repair the damaged blood vessels around the treatment-hit tumor. When mice with cancer were treated with a drug that inhibited the action of M2 macrophages, the speed of tumor re-growth after chemotherapy, was significantly reduced.

The research is still ongoing and more investigation into M2 macrophage inhibition and tumor re-growth in humans is required. Moreover, clinical trials in patients already using the drug for bone marrow transplants, etc, will determine its actual potential to help patients live a cancer-free life after chemotherapy.