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Cancer treatment: Can stem cell transplants fight cancer?

ByZarafshan Shiraz, Delhi
Feb 03, 2023 08:50 AM IST

World Cancer Day 2023: Aside from their utility in immune reconstitution, stem cells have been shown to help in tissue regeneration and as delivery vehicles in cancer therapies but can stem cell transplants fight cancer and serve as cancer treatment? Health expert answers

For more than 30 years, stem cells have been employed to repair blood and immune systems destroyed by cancer cells, as well as during cancer treatment with chemotherapy or radiation. Aside from their utility in immune reconstitution, stem cells have been shown to help in tissue regeneration and as delivery vehicles in cancer therapies.

Cancer treatment: Can stem cell transplants fight cancer? (Photo by Thirdman on Pexels)

The current notion of "cancer stem cells" has driven scientific communities into a broad new area of research and potential future cancer therapy approaches but what exactly are cancer stem cells? In an interview with HT Lifestyle ahead of World Cancer Day 2023, Dr Pradeep Mahajan, Regenerative Medicine Researcher and Founder of StemRx BioScience Solutions in India, explained, “They sound like cancer-fighting stem cells. They're not. They are cancer-causing cells. Previously, experts believed that all cancer cells were the same. There is now evidence to suggest that particular, fast-growing cancer stem cells keep your illness alive by multiplying. Treatments that target cancer stem cells have recently become crucial in conjunction with standard medications for treating cancer and avoiding recurrence.”

Suggesting immunotherapy to target cancer cells, he said, “Immunotherapy is a cancer treatment method. It boosts the immune system and helps the body detect and destroy cancer cells by using compounds created by the body or in a laboratory. Immunotherapy can be used to treat a wide range of cancers. It can be used alone or with chemotherapy and/or other cancer therapies.”

He added, "Different forms of cancer are fought by different cells. For example, one way the immune system attacks cancer is by releasing T cells, a kind of white blood cell. T cells see cancer to be "foreign" cells that do not belong in the body. T cells fight and attempt to eliminate malignant cells. This can help in controlling side effects as the treatment is targeted and if there is any additional new modality. Target the breast tumour or solid tumours of the brain, chemotherapy molecules can reach the targeted cancer cells."

Talking about whether stem cell transplants fight cancer, he revealed, “Stem cell transplants do not normally directly combat cancer. They instead aid in the recovery of your body's ability to make stem cells following treatment with extremely high doses of radiation therapy, chemotherapy or both. However, in multiple myeloma and some kinds of leukaemia, stem cell transplantation may directly combat malignancy. This is due to a phenomenon known as graft-versus-tumour, which can develop following allogeneic transplants. Graft-versus-tumor happens when white blood cells from a donor (the graft) assault any cancer cells that remain in your body after high-dose therapy (the tumour). This impact boosts the effectiveness of the therapies.”

He assured, “Stem cell transplants are treatments that restore blood-forming stem cells to persons whose stem cells have been damaged by strong doses of chemotherapy or radiation therapy used to treat certain malignancies. A bone marrow/stem cell transplant is frequently used to manage cancer. Certain malignancies, such as some kinds of leukaemia and lymphoma, may be treatable. For other diseases, cancer remission is the greatest potential outcome. In remission, there are no indications or symptoms of cancer.”

Advising that you must see your doctor and undergo testing on a regular basis following a transplant, he insisted, “This is to monitor for any symptoms of cancer or transplant issues, as well as to give care for any side effects you may suffer. This follow-up treatment is critical to your rehabilitation.”

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