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Have We Been Looking at Cancer the Wrong Way?

September 06, 2017

In this article from The New Yorker, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Siddhartha Mukherjee considers a new way of looking at the cancer problem, and how we might predict which tumors are dangerous for possible metastasizing inside the body and which are not.  In case you don’t have access to The New Yorker, or don’t feel like reading a long piece, here’s some highlights that we’ve summed up for you.

For years, cancer researchers have been baffled about why certain types of cancers affect some people but not others.  In particular, we want to understand why metastases – the spreading of cancer cells from one body part to another – occur in only some patients. To unlock the answer, doctors have looked deep into the biology of how tumors grow and spread.

PCF researcher Ken Pienta notes that rather than considering “invasiveness” as a quality that is intrinsic to cancer, researchers need to start to think of invasiveness as a relationship between the cancer and the environment it lives in – YOU.  Furthermore, this relationship goes two ways: it’s not just about what the cancer is doing to you, but what your body might be doing to the cancer.

In the article, Mukherjee recounts a strange case of a melanoma patient, cleared of the disease, who years later donated a kidney to a friend. A few weeks after the transplant, the recipient of the kidney started sprouting hundreds of pinpricks of melanoma in his kidney.  The donor, however, remained healthy and melanoma free.  What’s different between the two men?  The host environment may be the key.

Full article: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/09/11/cancers-invasion-equation