You are scheduled for chemotherapy (Taxotere if you are being treated for prostate cancer) in a few days, so you stop eating until you complete the therapy session! This scenario could become typical in future treatment protocols.

Published last week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences was a study that found that starving mice before chemotherapy protected their healthy cells from the damaging side effects of the chemotherapy drugs.

According to Valter Longo, of the University of Southern California, the lead researcher of the study, healthy cells deprived of nourishment stopped dividing and became more resistant to stress. Chemotherapy works by having toxic chemicals target cells that are dividing (cancer is uncontrolled cell division). Because cancer cells no longer respond to their environment in a normal way, they are not responsive to starvation and continue to divide while normal cells will cease dividing. The result, the cancer cells absorb the toxins while the normal cells do not.

This study looked at how cells reacted to toxins after being denied glucose, a simple sugar. Healthy yeast cells, which were “starved”, were 1,000 times more resistant to chemo damage then were yeast cells that were “starved”, but also had a tumor gene in them.

Starvation prior to chemotherapy may shield patients from the destruction of their healthy cells. This could not only be a way to eliminate or moderate side effects of chemotherapy, but it could also allow the future use of more potent chemotherapy dosages and drugs.

Perhaps you might want to discuss with your oncologist the possibility of not eating prior to a chemotherapy round.

Joel T Nowak MA, MSW