Cancer drugs that are designed to shrink tumours by cutting off the supply to their blood may be doing the opposite and helping them spread to other parts of the body, a study has warned.
Researchers from Harvard Medical School in Boston investigated the drugs in question, Glivec and Sutent, and discovered that although it’s proven that they reduce the size of the cancer tumour – it could also make them more aggressive and mobile as a result.
Experts looked at a little-studied group of cells called pericytes, which provide structural support to the blood vessels and act as a ‘gatekeeper’ that stops tumours growing.
However, these pericyte cells are wiped out by advanced cancer drug treatments that are designed to prevent the growth, meaning the tumour has more freedom to ‘metastasise’, or spread, around the body.
Glivec, the brand name of the drug imatinib, and Sutent, also known as sunitinib, have both shown to significantly increase patient survival rates. However, researchers argue that ultimately, these drugs could be making the cancers more deadly, as metastasis to vital organs, such as the liver or brain, are two chief causes of cancer deaths.
The study, published in the Cancer Cell journal, came to this conclusion after removing pericytes from breast cancer tumours in genetically engineered mice. Throughout the following 25 days, researchers saw a 30% decrease in tumour growth but a three-fold increase in the number of secondary tumours growing in the animals’ lungs.
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