25/02/2016 06:01 GMT | Updated 25/02/2016 06:59 GMT

Controlling Cancer Could Be Better Than Destroying It Completely, Scientists Suggests

When a person is diagnosed with cancer, the main aim is to destroy any tumours as soon as possible to stop it from spreading. But new research suggests that this might not be the best course of action.

Rather than trying to eradicate the disease completely, the focus should be on living with it instead.

Scientists believe that stabilising the cancer with low doses of chemotherapy could be a more effective form of treatment.

In the video above, Katie Link from Newsy likens the ideas to pest control. She said: "It's hard to completely eradicate most pests, so sometimes the best strategy is to keep the population in check."

The same goes with cancer. By stabilising a tumour rather than trying to destroy it, the chance of the cancer becoming drug resistant is reduced.

chemotherapy

Scientists said that aggressive chemotherapy treatment can kill off some tumour cells, but it can also prompt other treatment resistant cells to grow back stronger, perhaps months later.

They have suggested that low doses of chemo can kill off tumour cells while not encouraging resistant cells to reappear.

Researchers grew two different types of breast cancer cells in mice. These cells were then treated with standard chemotherapy or modified chemotherapy.

One group of mice was given a standard high dose of chemo, they then skipped sessions if their tumours shrunk. In the other group, the mice were offered adaptive therapy - which is essentially continuous yet gradually decreasing doses of chemo.

The scientists wanted to know if they could find an ideal dose of chemotherapy which would destroy enough cancer cells but wouldn't prompt resistant cells to redevelop.

The second group of mice, with the gradually decreasing doses of chemo, had the most positive response in terms of slowing down tumour growth.

Tumours shrunk to the point where they no longer required any more chemo in 80% of the mice.

Conversely, in group one, none of the tumours shrank at all.

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Lead researcher Dr Robert Gatenby, from Moffitt Cancer Centre and Research Institute in Florida, said he was "surprised" by the findings.

"We propose that by eliminating all of the sensitive cells and leaving only the resistant cells behind, this approach actually results in the most rapid possible tumour progression," he said.

"So, we use an adaptive therapy approach that uses smaller doses with the deliberate goal of leaving behind a population of cells that are still sensitive."

He added: "Our results suggest that this adaptive therapeutic strategy can be adapted to clinical imaging and can result in prolonged progression-free survival in breast cancer."

Gatenby said that one of the biggest hurdles now is for people to change their views of cancer, so that rather than trying to eradicate the disease, they learn to live with it instead.

The study was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

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