This morning’s New York Times on-line carried an interesting story written by Gina Kolata about what could be the next wave of cancer research, cancerous stem cells (csc).

Despite the common belief that cancerous cells can just continue to divide and divide forever, now some researchers believe that cancerous tumor cells are, just as normal cells, limited in the number of times they can divide.

So, how would you explain cancer’s ability to just keep growing without any limit? The theory is that there are cancerous stem cells (csc) just as there are general stem cells. It is these csc that have the ability to keep on replicating themselves. This theory also says that these csc are resistant to our current chemotherapy drugs. Therefore, chemo would kill he regular cancer cells, but leave behind the csc which have the ability to replicate themselves and allow the cancer to continue to progress. This theory would explain prostate cancers, as well as many other types of cancers, ability to ultimately survive chemo.

In the research field there are many skeptics to this theory. However, the National Cancer Institute has decided to provide significant financial support to research this area. Their hope is to find drugs that will focus on the cancerous stem cells and develop ways to also attack them. Of course, the success of this endeavor is contingent on the merit of the underlying theory that there are in fact csc.

The full story can be read at Topic Page: Stem Cells

Joel T Nowak MA, MSW