GMB : Adela Roberts discusses her bowel cancer diagnosis
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The ongoing uncertainty surrounding the cause of cancer has significantly slowed the search for a cure. But researchers have nonetheless made significant gains in their studies, helping millions survive the disease. In a recent discovery, a team of scientists found that a standard HIV drug could stall the progression of bowel cancer. The findings appear to suggest that a combination of HIV drugs could prevent the progression of various types of cancer.
Metastases occur when cells released by primary tumours are carried to other tissue or body parts, where they form into a secondary tumour.
These secondary tumours are considered the deadly offspring of cancer, as they make cancer considerably harder to treat.
This is why catching the disease in the initial stages is key to survival, as it allows the disease to be contained.
There are no definitive ways of stopping metastasis in its track, but some systemic therapy, such as chemotherapy, aim to stop cancer cells from spreading.
READ MORE: Bowel cancer: The ‘change’ in the shape of your poo that can signal the deadly disease
The findings of a new trial, published in the journal Cancer Discovery, showed that HIV therapy could stall the progression of metastatic colon cancer in 25 percent of patients.
The results have raised the possibility that HIV therapy could forge a new path in cancer treatment.
The trial looked at a sample of 32 patients with advanced, metastatic colon cancer, which had failed to respond to four previous courses of treatment.
After administering nine of the patients a standard HIV-approved dose of lamivudine, scientists found signs of disease stability.
A further 23 patients then received lamivudine therapy after the dose was adjusted fourfold, which led to the drug being highly tolerated.
Of the 32 patients, 28 percent saw their disease stabilise or demonstrated a mixed response at the end of the study.
“This provides evidence that an HIV drug can be repurposed as an anti-cancer therapy in metastatic cancer patients,” noted the lead author of the study, David Ting, of the Mass General Cancer Center.
The scientist continued: “After giving them only this one drug – nothing else – we saw signs of disease stability.
“If we see this kind of response with just one HIV drug, the next obvious trial is to see what else we can achieve with HAART, or highly active antiretroviral therapy.”
HAART, which refers to the standard regime for HIV treatment, uses a combination of three or more drugs.
Previous studies conducted on the US population have also shown that rates of cancer of the colon, breast and prostate are significantly lower among groups receiving HAART, compared to the general population.
In previous work, the researchers had discovered that tumours were composed of 50 percent repetitive elements, known as junk DNA.
Colorectal cancers produce high amounts of repetitive elements, as do cancers of the oesophagus, lung, and others.
Mr Ting and his team had discovered colorectal cancer cells were particularly sensitive to lamivudine, by limiting their ability to move.
The study author theorised that HIV drugs may therefore prevent cancer or recurrence.
He noted: “Disease stability in a cancer population this advanced, with just one single agent, is highly unusual and we are hoping we can soot initiate a large Phase III study with a three-drug […] combination.”
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