The article, “How Cancer Shapes Evolution and How Evolution Shapes Cancer” explains cancer and cancer treatment from an evolutionary perspective. One topic of the article states that receiving cancer treatment through radiation or chemotherapy can actually worsen the cancer or allow a second cancer to develop. This is because “Although cytotoxic treatment can initially cause a major reduction of the tumor size, this also creates powerful pressure that will frequently select for clones that have intrinsic resistance to the regimen. This evolutionary ability of the tumor cells
thus results in regimen failure and regrowth of the cancer, populated by resistant cells” (Casás-Selves et al p. 6). As this quote explains, cancer treatment often only kills the least dangerous cancerous cells (the ones with the least resistance) and allows the better adapted clones to remain and grow more resistant.
Scientists are the University of California, San Diego, discovered an explanation for how this resistance occurs. Journalist Jamie Reno explains their findings saying, “Researchers found that two of the drugs — Erlotinib for lung cancer and Lapatinib for breast cancer — are effective for a while, but eventually stop killing cancer cells and begin prompting them to resist the drug and become more aggressive” (p.1). At this stage of resistance, treatment actually contributes to tumor growth due to a molecule called CD61. Researchers found that cancer treatment can cause this molecule to rise to the surface of the tumor and “spur tumor cells to acquire more stubborn, stem-cell-like properties, including an ability to survive almost anywhere in the body” (Reno p.1).
Because treatment can increase the ability of cancer cells to survive throughout the body, secondary cancers can occur. These are cancer growths that can appear anywhere in the body and have three characteristics: “1) histologic features of first cancer and secondary cancer are different, 2) secondary cancer is within the area previously treated with radiation, and 3) the secondary cancer has a latency period of 5 years – that is, the secondary cancer develops five years or later after the first” (Loiselle p. 1).
The idea that the means of treatment for cancer can either worsen the current cancer or cause a second type to develop is incredibly frightening. Fortunately, there is a potential solution on the horizon: a drug called Bortezomib. This drug “is introduced to the drug-resistant tumors treated by an RTK [chemotherapy] drug, it reverses stem-cell-like properties of the tumors and re-sensitizes the tumors to drugs that the cancer cells had developed resistance to” (Reno p. 1). These drugs are still going through clinical trials, but are appearing to be a promising addition to the current therapies that are used for cancer treatment. One of the researchers performing these clinical trials reports that in mice, “he has seen no recurrence of lung, breast or pancreatic cancer activity once the second drug is added” (Reno p. 1). In order to maximize the effectiveness of this process, oncologists plan to monitor patients drug resistance early in the treatment process and administer Bortezomib as early as resistance is detected (Reno p. 1).
Cancer treatment is still a new and highly imperfect process. Not only are current methods unreliable, but they can also make the cancer worse or cause it to reoccur. Fortunately, new drugs are being developed that can potentially help counteract the dangers of current treatments. If these new drugs are approved, there may be greater hope for cancer remission.
1. Casás-Selves, M., & DeGregori, J. (2011, December 2). How Cancer Shapes Evolution and How Evolution Shapes Cancer. . Retrieved April 23, 2014, from https://ctools.umich.edu/access/content/group/dd756836-7171-480e-b38d-66e2fc80511c/Readings/CasasSelves_DeGregori2011EvoEduOutreach.pdf
2. Reno, J. (2014, April 20). New Cancer Drugs Make Tumors Drug Resistant, More Aggressive. International Business Times. Retrieved April 22, 2013, from http://www.ibtimes.com/disturbing-discovery-new-generation-targeted-cancer-drugs-cause-tumors-become-drug-1573800
3. Loiselle, D. (2011, May 9). Secondary Malignancies After Radiation Therapy. Global Resource for Advancing Cancer Education. Retrieved April 22, 2014, from http://cancergrace.org/radiation/2011/05/09/secondary-malignancies/