Chemotherapy drugs are considered standard cancer treatment. Yet, despite their being used for more than seven decades, cancer remains the second leading cause of death. It is common knowledge that chemotherapy drugs are highly toxic and trigger multiple adverse side effects, ranging from nausea, diarrhea, and hair loss, to decreased immunity and damage to vital organs. Many of the chemotherapy drugs have been labeled as carcinogens, but they are still used as the mainstay of treatment in cancer patients. It has been estimated that, in some hospitals, chemotherapy itself is the cause of death in 30-50 percent of patients within a month of initiation of treatment.
In a recently published study, researchers from Vanderbilt University found that some of the commonly used chemotherapy drugs, such as cisplatin and carboplatin, do not promote cell death but, ironically, induce cellular growth. This is more evident in stem cells, which are the precursor cells and develop into other types of specific cells as required. Under normal circumstances, the stem cells are slow-growing cells. However, in this study, when the stem cells were exposed to DNA-damaging chemotherapy drugs, they started growing very rapidly and formed different types of cells to those they normally would. This implies that these chemotherapy drugs attack genetic material and thus increase the chances of future cancers. Most chemotherapy drugs are linked with such secondary cancers.
Moreover, after a cell dies from chemotherapy treatment, the cellular components left over (known as the ‘cell debris’) can be dangerous too. Such debris can induce inflammation, which in turn can lead to other cancers.
To investigate the effects of cell debris, scientists at the Dr. Rath Research Institute conducted a study using breast cancer cells and cancer cell debris in animal models. One group of animals was exposed to the breast cancer cells together with debris generated by docetaxel, a chemotherapy drug, while another group was exposed only to breast cancer cells.
The results showed that the group given the cancer cell debris generated by docetaxel treatment grew significantly larger tumors than the group exposed only to breast cancer cells. The weight of the tumors in the ‘debris’ group was 40 percent higher than in the ‘cancer only’ group. The cancer cell debris also increased the inflammatory markers tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFa) and interleukin (IL-1). The docetaxel-induced cell debris group had higher levels of tumor-promoting markers and pro-angiogenetic factors such as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), indicating the potential to further promote additional tumors. Matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) enzymes were also secreted. MMPs are known to digest collagen and are associated with the spread of cancer (metastasis).
The actual safety of chemotherapy drugs is already debatable. The Vanderbilt University study and the Dr. Rath Research Institute study provide mounting evidence that these drugs not only cause temporary adverse side effects, but also significantly promote future cancer growth, future cancer recurrence, and secondary cancer(s) – the very disease for which the drugs are given as a treatment.