Why do so many cancers come back after aggressive medical treatments? Could radiation and chemotherapy be targeting the wrong cells? McGowan Institute cancer researchers have found that some cancer cells are churned out by their own diabolical kind of stem cells.


Modern chemotherapy is based on the idea that you can kill cancer by attacking rapidly dividing cells that are cancer's hallmark. But stem cells don't divide rapidly. They slowly spin off new generations of cells, and these are the fast reproducers. By killing the progeny of stem cells, chemotherapy may be destroying the bulk of the tumor while leaving the stem cells relatively unharmed — and still churning out tumor-building descendants.

Our research may result in new treatments that kill a cancer's stem cells. While a stem cell-directed therapy might leave the bulk of the tumor unharmed, the surviving cells would die off slowly by natural attrition, and no new ones would grow.

Other McGowan Institute researchers are exploring the use of stem cells derived from a patient's own fat for breast reconstruction after cancer surgery.

Additional Resources

How Do I Get Treatment?
Physicians are not yet targeting cancer stem cells with treatments, but expert cancer care is available at UPMC Cancer Centers.

The "Darth Vader" of Stem Cells
Embryonic stem cells build the body's tissues. Adult stem cells maintain them. But cancer stem cells build tumors — and researchers and philanthropists are joining forces to fight them. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,
June 20, 2005.

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