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How Does Chemotherapy Work

Posted 6/26/2013

Posted in

  We have all wondered:"How does chemo work anyway?". We see the dramatic results as our hair falls out, our heads ache, our stomachs revolt, and we want to nap. There is absolutely no correlation between the intensity of side effects and the efficacy of the treatment, but it surely feels as though something big must be happening.

  The standard answer is that chemo kills fast growing cells. This phrase explains several things: why our hair falls out and we may get mouth sore (all fast growing cells there), why the treatment schedules are what they are (to match with blood counts that are also speedy cells), and why chemotherapy works especially well with more aggressive cells and is less helpful for slow-growing cancers. It turns out that there is at least one other explanation for chemo's frequent success--warning you here that this one is more scientifically complicated.

  Here is a quote from the NCI Bulletin and a link to read more:

Busting a Myth about How Chemotherapy Works

"Chemotherapy has cured millions of people, but we don't know why it works," Dr. Letai said.
In recent years, however, an alternative explanation for how chemotherapy works has emerged from
studies of mitochondria, the energy-producing organelles of cells. Mitochondria, it turns out, also play a
role in a form of cell death known as apoptosis; this biologic process allows cells to "commit suicide" rather
than to pass abnormalities on to the next generation of cells.
Building on this work, Dr. Letai and his colleagues recently demonstrated that some cancer cells are "more
ready" to commit suicide through the apoptotic pathway than others, at least in the lab. Differences in this
state of readiness—which the researchers call "priming"—may help explain the different responses patients
have to chemotherapy, the researchers concluded.



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