Can Chemotherapy Actually Boost Cancer Growth?

The treatment that many U.S. cancer patients receive to kill their cancer may actually enhance its growth. You don’t need to be told that chemotherapy is highly toxic stuff. This poison kills cells—both the cancer cells and healthy cells. But people may be surprised to learn that chemotherapy actually can boost cancer growth.

Researchers made a shocking and “completely unexpected” finding while studying why it is so much harder to kill cancer cells in the body when the cells are so much easier to kill in a laboratory setting. Knowing that chemotherapy damages healthy cells, the scientists discovered that chemotherapy also triggers cells to secrete a protein that supports tumor growth and makes them resistant to further treatment. They tested the effects of one type of chemotherapy on tissue that was collected from men with prostate cancer. What they found was “evidence of DNA damage” in the healthy cells after they underwent treatment.

Chemotherapy works to treat cancer by inhibiting reproduction of rapidly dividing cells like the ones found in cancerous tumors. The chemo-damaged healthy cells secreted more of a type of protein called WNT 16B. This protein boosts cancer cell survival. This increase was unexpected, but the researchers confirmed these findings by getting the same results in breast and ovarian cancer tumors.

Study co-author Peter Nelson, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, said, “WNT 16B, when secreted, would interact with nearby tumor cells and cause them to grow, invade, and importantly, resist subsequent therapy.” This could explain why when patients start chemotherapy, the tumors respond well initially but then have a period of rapid regrowth followed by resistance to further chemotherapy treatments. The research team believes that their results indicate that damage to the healthy cells may contribute to this enhanced tumor growth.

Chemotherapy boosts cancer growth, but it also causes many long-lasting side effects. Because chemotherapy destroys almost all other cells and systems before really getting to the cancerous cells, there are many other effects on the body.

The immune system and central nervous system may be affected for years after the chemotherapy treatment. Many patients suffer cognitive effects from the chemotherapy killing off healthy brain cells. Even when chemotherapy extends life in many patients, the poisons in the body may cause more diseases in the future. Many patients are made sicker or killed from the effects of the chemo itself.

Other medications for advanced prostate cancer

With other newer medications for late-stage prostate cancer, chemotherapy is not the only treatment. There is immunotherapy with Provenge (sipuleucel-T), which uses your own activated immune cells to target and attack prostate cancer cells. Provenge is for patients with minimal symptoms. Zytiga (abiraterone) is an oral medication that decreases testosterone, the hormone that can stimulate the growth of prostate cancer. Xtandi (enzalutamide) is also an oral therapy. Xtandi competitively binds to androgen receptors to inhibit multiple steps in the androgen receptor signaling pathway. Xofigo (radium-223) is for patients who have bone tumors but whose cancer has not spread to other areas of the body. Talk to your doctor about what kind of treatment is right for your prostate cancer, and research your options well.

Read more on advanced prostate cancer treatments

Natural cancer killers

In our society, when we hear cancer our reaction is to cut it out, burn it out, or use poison to kill it. Perhaps what we need is a completely way of treating cancer through plant-based therapies, lifestyle and diet changes, and natural medicines. While it is not well researched in U.S. labs, there are growing international studies and a lot of anecdotal evidence regarding cannabis oil for shrinking prostate cancer tumors. Patients can eat a diet rich in cancer-fighting foods such as cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli), cayenne peppers, mushrooms, garlic, tomatoes (high in lycopene), beans, and walnuts, among others. These foods do not cause side effects. Top supplements include cayenne peppers, green tea, omega-3 fatty acids, resveratrol, pomegranate, turmeric, vitamin D, zinc, mushrooms, and others. A whole body approach that is focused on increasing immunity and avoiding toxic foods and substances may be more supportive of the body as it fights cancer.

Read more in our Prostate Cancer Health Center.


Sircus .M. US scientists find that chemotherapy boosts cancer growth. 2 Aug 2013.