(Russel Davis) Normalizing the oxygen supply in tumors may inhibit the progression of cancer, according to a study published in the journal Nature. The scientific community has well established the mechanism behind cancer onset. Experts note that the disease stems from a single cell’s DNA mutation, either by chance or due to carcinogenic factors, which is then followed by the rapid expansion of the abnormal cell.
According to scientists, these harmful genetic mutations affect the functions of otherwise normal cells. However, the experts say that these mutations are necessary for the growth and survival of cancer cells. Health experts also explain that aside from these genetic changes, tumor cells also exhibit epigenetic changes. These changes have something to do with how genes are expressed.
As part of the new study, the researchers have examined more than 3,000 patient tumors to see how hypermethylation contributes to cancer onset. The scientists explain that hypermethylation is a process where high amounts of methyl groups are added to the cell’s DNA. The researchers stress that hypermethylation dampens the expression of tumor suppressing genes as a result, which then speeds up abnormal cellular behavior and excessive tumor growth.
“Our study shows that hypermethylation is caused by oxygen shortage or hypoxia. In fact, oxygen shortage explains up to half of the hypermethylation in tumors. While we dedicated much of our efforts to breast tumors, we also demonstrated that this mechanism has a similarly broad impact in bladder, colorectal, head and neck, kidney, lung, and uterine tumors,” researcher Professor Diether Lambrechts reports in Ku Leuven News online.
Starving tumor cells of oxygen may mitigate cancer onset
The researchers then used animal models to see whether targeting tumor oxygen supply may impact cancer progression. Data from the clinical trial confirm that normalizing the blood supply in tumors may effectively mitigate epigenetic changes from occurring. The findings show potential in cancer management, the researchers say. The results may also lead to the development of new anti-cancer drugs that target blood vessels or the epigenetic abnormalities, the experts add.
“Our new insights can have a potentially huge impact on cancer management. First of all, we could use epigenetic aberrations to monitor the oxygen supply to a tumor, allowing us to better predict tumor behavior and make more informed treatment decisions. Secondly, it sheds new light on existing blood vessel targeting therapies. They don’t only help deliver chemotherapy to the tumor, but also inhibit new epigenetic aberrations. This could in turn help make relapses less aggressive, and thus prove to be therapeutically beneficial,” researcher Dr. Bernard Thienpont tells Science Daily online.
The researchers have already began testing whether tumor DNA analysis can be used to predict tumor oxygenation. The experts have also commenced research about potential therapies that help normalize blood vessels.
“We want to know whether it’s not just possible to inhibit, but maybe even to reverse some of these epigenetic aberrations. Following through on these and other new research avenues gives us great faith in the future of cancer research,” Professor Lambrechts adds.
Fast facts about U.S. cancer rates
The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that:
A total of 1,688,780 new cancer cases will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2017 alone.
A total of 600,920 cancer deaths will occur across the country.
About 13 percent of diagnosed cases in adults ages 20 and older will be rare forms of cancer.
Cancer incidence rate is 20 percent higher in men than in women.
Cancer death rate is 40 percent higher in men than in women.
Cancer death rate is 15 percent higher in blacks than in whites.
Read The Healing Benefits of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for more information on using oxygen as a cancer therapy.