The Dying Words of Cancer Cells Are Instructions on How to Kill You

The Dying Words of Cancer Cells Are Instructions on How to Kill You

Colon cancer can be a huge, unrelenting asshole. Case in point: Although colorectal cancer cases have technically dropped overall since the mid-1980s, research shows that people under 55 are now 59 percent more likely to get the disease in its advanced stages. 

To make matters worse, colon cancer cells are particularly resistant to chemotherapy. Now, a new study has uncovered a key clue as to why: When cancer cells are being killed off by chemo, they send a warning to their neighboring cancer cells that a blast of chemo is coming, allowing those cells to evade it scot-free. Not only is that an incredibly rude way for a cell to die, but it’s also a big reason why colorectal cancer is the second deadliest cancer and the third most common worldwide. 

“Our research results demonstrate that — despite years of successful research — unknown mechanisms are still being discovered which show us how perfidiously tumor cells evade therapy,” Mark Schmitt, first author of the study, explained in a press release. (FWIW: That’s a very solid use of “perfidiously.”)

Schmitt, however, was hopeful about the prospects of tailoring future treatments to ensure dying cancer cells STFU before they shuffle off to a cancerous hell of their own. Or as he put it, “(The results) offer a new and promising starting point for substantially improving the response rate of advanced colorectal carcinomas to common chemotherapeutic agents by means of combination therapy.”

Study co-author Florian Greten agreed that it was surprising to see that tumor cells “have developed communication mechanisms to the point that even the dying ones play an active role in ensuring their neighbors’ survival when under therapeutic ‘attack.’” That said, he was similarly optimistic about the prospect of more effective colon cancer chemotherapies being derived from this understanding: “We hope very much that by interrupting the communication between the cells we can achieve this tremendous increase in the effect of standard therapy in patients as well.”

No one ever expected cancer cells to be nice, but they seemed more like cool, calculated killers than deranged, loose-lipped vigilantes. Either way, it’s very much time to find a way to shut them the hell up.

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