Metastasis kills an estimate of 90% of cancer patients. Cells from the primary tumor travel throughout the body causing the cancer to spread. There has been no change in the mortality rate for metastatic cancer in over 50 years. It is almost impossible to treat cancer once it has disseminated throughout the body. Science has done plenty of research trying to determine the exact reason for metastasis as well as possible methods of prevention. Considering the length of time that has passed, it would appear we have made very little progress. However, in recent years, there have been some promising studies. Protein molecules have been identified that control the proliferation of cancer cells. Blood flow has also been shown to be a key factor in cancer spread. Different cancer types must be researched as each of them have different reactions to treatment. Pancreatic cancer, in particular, is one of the most aggressive and resistant to traditional treatment. New therapeutic targets have also been identified that have the potential to eliminate the chances of metastasis entirely.
Cancer cells follow a series of stages when they spread. They can invade nearby tissue, move into the walls of nearby lymph nodes or blood vessels, travel through the blood stream where they may stop in small blood vessels and move into surrounding tissue. While it is true that cancer can spread to any part of the body, different types of cancer tend to metastasize in specific regions. Once cancer has spread, it is very difficult to control, and current treatments are ineffective. Researchers are constantly trying to find the reasons why cancer spreads, along with ways in which to stop it completely. Studies have been unable to uncover enough information about metastatic cells due to the stages of the cascade. For this reason, it is difficult to formulate treatments and often these tumors have a resistance against drugs that were previously working.
Both Pao pereira and Rauwolfia vomitoria have been researched for their capacity to inhibit metastasis. The Columbia University Medical Center found that Pao pereira is effective against prostate cancer cells that no longer respond to hormone therapy. Not only did the Pao pereira extract destroy cancer cells, it also blocked cell migration and invasion of cells into healthy tissue. It suppressed metastasis by inhibiting the specific protein which promotes cancer cell migration.
In a similar study against prostate cancer, the Beljanski Foundation and Kansas University Medical Center, found that a combination of Gemcitabine chemotherapy and Rauwolfia vomitoria effectively inhibited metastatic growth. They used two separate groups of mice, one with Rauwolfia vomitoria and one with Gemcitabine alone to test the treatments. The study found that the plant extract alone had more of an effect on both tumors and metastatic cells than did Gemcitabine alone. When combining the two, the percentage of mice without metastatic tumors increased from 20% with only the plant extract, to 40% with integration. They also found that Rauwolfia vomitoria reduced the toxicity of the chemotherapy.
Science has been looking into every stage of the process. According to a study conducted by the University of California, San Diego, there has been evidence to suggest that so-called “junk DNA” actually has the instructions for making molecules that help cancer spread. Non-coding RNA, or RNA that does not transcribe DNA into proteins, have many roles. One of those roles is apparently to promote cancer by attaching the BRD4 protein to DNA which heightens tumor developing genes. BRD4 has been a potential target for cancer treatment because studies have shown that inactivating or suppressing its expression inhibits cancer development.
Another study found that inhibiting the protein LTBP-3 keeps cancers from metastasizing efficiently. According to clinical studies, lower levels of this protein indicate increased chances of survival in cancer patients. The findings suggest that treatments can target the protein in a tumor’s early stages so that metastasis does not occur. Other research has looked passed the beginning stages of metastatic cascade into how cancer cells adhere to blood vessels. It was thought that cancer cells simply establish adhesion due to size constraints in small capillaries. Now, researchers state that blood flow actually controls the location and the onset of tumor growth. If treatments can keep cancer cells away from a certain range of blood flow, they can stop secondary tumor growth.
As more and more research goes into studying the components of cancer metastasis, the further along we will get to understanding how this disease spreads. There are still many questions regarding metastatic cascade. As we come to understand it, more treatment options can become available. While the medical community looks into engineering cancer cells to attack their own kind, natural extracts may prove even more beneficial. Integrative medicine can be the answer to finding a cure. With promising studies such as the combination of Rauwolfia vomitoria and Gemcitabine chemotherapy, it’s possible that current treatments simply need bolstering. Hopefully in the near future we will be able to lower the percentage of deaths from metastasized cancer and eventually eradicate it completely.