Managing cancer with low doses of chemotherapy could be more effective than attempting to kill the disease, scientists believe.
The controversial approach suggests that cancer patients may have a better chance of survival if they live with their illness long term.
Current cancer treatments often involve aggressive treatment with high doses chemotherapy in an attempt to wipe out as many tumour cells as possible.
But complete eradication of canceris rare, and the toxic side effects of chemotherapy can be highly destructive – not only leading to hair loss, nausea and extreme fatigue, but also crippling the body’s immune system or triggering anaemia.
Some experts believe high-dose chemotherapy may actually worsen cancer by exerting a natural selection pressure that helps drug-resistant tumour cells to become more abundant which means if cancer returns it will be fatal.
The new strategy is designed to prevent drug-resistant tumour cells getting a handle.
Rather than trying to eradicate a tumour, the treatment stabilises it by deliberately allowing a small population of drug-sensitive tumour cells to survive.
A team of US scientists led by Dr Robert Gatenby, from the H Lee Moffitt Cancer Centre and Research Institute in Tampa, Florida, conducted tests using the chemotherapy drug paclitaxel to treat mice with two different kinds of breast cancer.
Standard chemotherapy initially shrank the mouse tumours, but as soon as the treatment stopped they grew back. However giving an initial high dose followed be regular lower doses controlled cancer growth.
In fact the treatment was so effective that the majority of the mice were weaned off the drug completely over an extended period of time without suffering relapses.
SOURCE: Sarah Knapton