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April 6, 2010

Blocking gene boosts cancer killing effect of radiotherapy

Topics: Health Issues

_47577124_m705159-radiotherapy-spl-2.jpgAs a two time long-term survivor of head and neck cancer (now 7 years post treatment - never smoked before or after cancer) who has had two series of radiation treatments, I have a special appreciation for news that a UK research team has found that a gene which hinders the ability of radiotherapy to kill cancer cells has been detected and if the gene - which has a role in repairing damaged DNA - is blocked - the radiotherapy is more effective. This is especially important since nearly two-thirds of cancer patients are treated with radiation over the course of their illnesses, with cancers of the lung, prostate and breast making up the majority of cancers treated.

Via the BBC:

[...] It is hoped that the discovery, which came about after a trawl through 200 candidate genes, could lead to new drugs to boost radiotherapy.

The findings are published in the journal Cancer Research.

Many thousands of cancer patients will have some form of radiotherapy as part of their treatment, and it is estimated to contribute to 40% of cases where cancer is eliminated.

The researchers from the University of Oxford said tumours can differ widely in the way they respond to radiotherapy - but the reasons for these differences are largely unknown.

In order to find a potential target for increasing the chances that radiotherapy would work, they looked specifically at genes involved in repairing DNA damage.

After pinpointing the POLQ gene, they found that blocking it in several different types of cancer cell in the laboratory, including laryngeal and pancreatic tumours, rendered the cells more vulnerable to the effects of radiation.

[...] "Blocking the activity of this gene resulted in a greater number of tumour cells dying after radiotherapy and provides new avenues for research."

Next step is to try to develop drugs that can target the gene, thereby improving the effectiveness of radiotherapy. Hopefully, by improving the effectiveness of radiation the number of treatments and dosage can be reduced, thereby reducing the side effects which in the case of head and neck cancers can be rather harsh (although worth the pain if you want to live).

In the way of a side note for anyone suffering from head and neck cancer and now facing treatment, I attribute my own survival to having had surgery first, then concomitant cisplatinum and aggressive radiation therapy. However, it's my understanding that currently, some doctors prefer surgery after chemo/radiation.

Posted by Abdul at April 6, 2010 8:33 AM

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