An interesting new study indicates that starvation paired with chemotherapy can significantly reduce the growth of cancer cells, matching or improving the effects of chemotherapy alone.
Scientists at the University of Southern California studied the effects of chemotherapy and starvation on a variety of mouse models with both human and mouse cancers.
Their results, published in Science Translational Medicine, show that the combination of fasting and chemotherapy reduced cancer growth significantly.
Melanoma metastasis was found in 40 per cent of mice given just chemotherapy, 20 per cent under starving conditions alone, and 10 per cent of mice that underwent chemotherapy and fasting.
Analysis suggested that in cancer cancers, fasting and chemotherapy together induce a 20-fold increase in DNA damage and an increase in oxidative stress.
Whilst normal cells are well-equipped to deal with starvation, cancer cells are poor at adapting to new situations.
When cancerous cells are faced with a hostile environment such as starvation, they become weak and shut down.
Study co-author Valter Longo, who studies the molecular mechanisms of aging at the University of Southern California, said: “The surprising part was that, for several cancers including breast cancer, fasting cycles alone were as good as chemotherapy,” said Longo. “We expected some delay but not an equivalent effect.”
There are already three clinical trials— one of which is at the University of Southern California—underway studying the combination of fasting and chemotherapy in human patients.
Scientists say that whilst uncovering the mechanism could lead to better solution, further studies are needed to understand the effects of starvation on cancer. Only a clinical trial lasting several years will confirm if human cancer patients really can benefit from calorie restriction.
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