Cancer Treatment: A One-two Punch More Effective in Killing Cancer Cells

Chemotherapy alone leaves behind dormant cells, but when combined with immunotherapy, it can destroy most of the dormant cells.

A majority of dormant cancer cells can be killed off through the combination of chemotherapy and immunotherapy.

In study published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, researchers treated breast cancer cells with a commonly-used chemotherapeutic agent. Although the chemotherapy was able to kill a majority of the cancer cells, a residual population of 2 types of dormant cancer cells remained.

The population of cancer cells consisted of an indolent and a quiescent population, which researchers were able to determine by measuring the presence of a molecule associated with cell division. When the dormant cells were treated with immunotherapy, they found that the dormant cells were susceptible to the treatment.

Furthermore, the quiescent cancer cells were unable to escape the immunotherapy.

“Immunotherapy has become a paradigm shift in medical treatment of disease,” said John E. Wherry, PhD, deputy editor of the journal. “Now, instead of our drugs targeting only diseased cells, we can target the immune system and provoke cells of the immune system to do the job for us. This new study demonstrates the importance of this concept of exploiting the immune system in cancer to target residual disease that our cancer drugs miss.”