Cancer Stem Cells and Why They Matter
Stem cells seem to be the latest rage in cancer medicine and in alternative medicine, with promises that this or that product will get rid of stem cells so we can stay healthy or in remission from a chronic condition like cancer, or prevent a cancer.
What is a cancer stem cell?
Cancer stem cells are rare immortal cells within a tumor that can both self-renew by dividing and also give rise to many cell types that constitute the tumor and can therefore form tumors. Such cells have been found in various types of human tumors and might be attractive targets for cancer treatment. Cancer stem cells (CSCs) are cancer cells found within tumors or blood cancers that possess characteristics associated with normal stem cells, specifically the ability to give rise to all cell types found in a particular cancer sample.
Cancer stem cells have a pro-survival strategy involved in promoting cancer cell invasion, growth and metastasis. These cancer stem cells are unlike typical stem cells because they are designed to promote cancerous activities, including the ability to self-renew, resistance to chemotherapeutic drugs, and the promotion of inflammation.
This is from a modern oncology journal: “Modern chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and other antineoplastic regimens have made the treatment of many solid tumors possible and have given hope to those diagnosed with cancer. However, the prognosis for many cancer patients remains bleak due to the high rate of cancer recurrence and multiple drug resistance (MDR) seen after initial chemotherapy treatments. Metastatic cancers affecting multiple organ systems are particularly difficult to treat. Cancer stem cells (CSCs) potentially explain many of the shortcomings of established chemotherapy treatments.”
In other words, when cancers are treated with modern oncology methods, tumors may shrink but then come roaring back.
Research has shown that cancer cells are not all the same. Within a malignant tumor or among the circulating cancerous cells of a leukemia, there can be a variety of types of cells. The stem cell theory of cancer proposes that among all cancerous cells, a few act as stem cells that reproduce themselves and sustain the line of cancer cells.