Treatment options with stem cells

Research on cancer stem cells will change everything about how doctors diagnose, prevent and treat cancer

Watch the video and listen as Dr. Max Wicha, director of the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center, explains how stem cell research will change cancer treatment.

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Will the discovery of cancer stem cells change how doctors treat cancer?

By analyzing the genes that are active in a patient's cancer stem cells and counting the number of stem cells in a tumor, physicians could identify patients at high risk for advanced, aggressive disease.

New therapies designed to target stem cells could eliminate cancer without the risks and side effects of current treatments that also destroy healthy cells in the body. Destroying cancer stem cells in the original tumor could reduce the risk of deadly metastasis, where malignant cells move from the primary tumor to other places in the body. Finally, by killing the cells driving the tumor's growth, treatments targeted at cancer stem cells could eliminate recurrences of the disease.

Why doesn't chemotherapy and radiation kill cancer stem cells?

Scientists don't know for sure. Since chemotherapy and radiation kill cells that divide often, stem cells may be less vulnerable because they rarely divide. Some scientists believe cancer stem cells may have genetic mutations that make them resistant to damage from chemotherapy or radiation, or cancer stem cells may be able to repair DNA damage more rapidly than normal cells.

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Updated 03./2011