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Tags: cancer | stem cells | DNA | free radicals

What Are Cancer Stem Cells?

By Wednesday, 21 November 2018 01:41 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Normally, the stem cells that are scattered throughout the human body remain dormant until they are needed for repair and replacement of damaged tissues. These special, primitive cells can reproduce themselves, creating more stem cells.

But stem cells are not like most cells in the body precisely because they have not matured (differentiated) into specific types of cells, such as heart cells, brain cells, skin cells, or any other cells.

In fact, stem cells can become any type of cell in the body once activated.

When tissues are damaged, the stem cells in the area activate and begin generating cells — called progenitor cells or daughter cells — that are more mature but not quite fully developed specialized cells.

These, in turn, can develop into whatever type of cell is needed — muscle cells, skin cells, liver cells, etc.

Stem cells can form any type of tissue cell in the body, which makes them very useful, for example, for replacing heart cells damaged by a heart attack or liver cells damaged by an injury.

In the past, it was thought that cancers developed from normal cells that had their DNA damaged by free radicals. The theory was that the cells mutated and became “immortal.”

Because such (cancer) cells have no check on their reproduction, they keep growing and invading other tissues until they kill a person.

It seemed to make sense — but there were things that didn’t fit with this idea.

For instance, we’ve seen cells that have just as much DNA damage, but never become cancers. It’s also known that 50 percent of women who enjoy long-term survival after the disease actually have live cancer cells floating around in their bloodstream. But their cancer never returns.

We can use powerful chemotherapy drugs and radiation to destroy cancer cells, but in most cases the cancer returns and often becomes faster growing and more aggressive than it had first been.

In other cases, a person appears to be completely cancer-free, but the cancer returns decades later. None of this makes sense if the old theory of cancer was true.

One innovative theory of cancer, which was mostly ignored, involved primitive embryonic cells (called trophoblasts) becoming trapped in certain tissues and forming cancers over time.

That was before we knew about stem cells. The new theory is that chronic inflammation generates storms of free radicals that damage the DNA of stem cells, triggering them to begin producing massive numbers of new daughter cells.

Imagine the cancer stem cell as a bubble blower and the massive number of cells it generates as the millions of bubbles that rise out of the bubble blower ring.

As long as you blow on the soapy ring, it will continue to produce bubbles (daughter cells). These bubbles represent the bulk of the tumor.

It’s estimated that stem cells actually make up no more than 1 percent to 10 percent of the bulk of a tumor — the rest is daughter cells.

What has been discovered is that chemotherapy and radiation therapy can kill the daughter cells, but cancer stem cells are totally resistant to these treatments.

If you remove or destroy the bulk of the tumor (the daughter cells) with chemotherapy and/or radiation, but leave some of the cancer stem cells behind, the tumor will come back.

This explains why tumors recur in 90 percent to 95 percent of cases of metastatic cancer treated by traditional therapies — because the cancer stem cells remain unharmed.

But cancer stem cells have their own control systems, so the tumor may not come back for months, years, or even decades.

Some have proposed that the daughter cells that make up the bulk of a tumor may not actually be malignant, and will not spread to other parts of the body — which is what kills cancer patients.

On the other hand, when cancer stem cells spread throughout the body, new tumors can be generated just like the original ones, and they are just as deadly.

The idea that the daughter tumor cells are not really cancer is not settled yet, but it’s clear that they’re not the main culprits in cancer cases.

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Stem cells are not like most cells in the body precisely because they have not matured (differentiated) into specific types of cells, such as heart cells, brain cells, skin cells, or any other cells.
cancer, stem cells, DNA, free radicals
Wednesday, 21 November 2018 01:41 PM
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