Cancer that is found in just a single location in the human body can often be curable. But when that cancer spreads, or metastasizes, the chances of a cure drop exponentially. An unfortunate paradox is that the majority of treatments for breast cancer are not effective at curing metastatic forms. This being the case, it’s critical to find ways to stop cancer cells from spreading.
Electromagnetic energy may be able to do just that.
The study came from a team at Ohio State University. As part of their work they created a tool to apply an even amount of electromagnetic energy to a range of breast cancer cells. They also constructed an instrument that could track the direction of cell movement via a microscope. This allowed them to see the effect the electromagnetic energy had on the cancer cells.
The research was carried out in a lab rather than in human cancer patients. But the study’s lead author, Jonathan Song, writes they were able to imitate what actually happens in the body in a controllable environment.
Stopping the spread
In the study, the team found that certain cell types that would typically spread by forming long, thin extensions at the edge were unable to do so when they were hit by a low-intensity electromagnetic field. The researchers noted that it seemed the cells could recognize the existence of the electromagnetic energy, as well as the direction it was coming from.
Deadliest cells are most responsive
An exciting aspect of the study found that metastatic triple-negative breast cancer cells were the most responsive to electromagnetic fields. This is important because these cells are typically the most difficult to treat.
Most cancer cells are different than metastatic triple-negative cancer cells because they have estrogen and progesterone receptors or human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 genes. Cancer treatments work by blocking one or all of these receptors. This is the basis of hormone cancer therapies.
Metastatic triple-negative cancer cells don’t have these receptors, so hormone therapy has no effect on them. Instead, chemotherapy is the usually treatment option. But chemotherapy is hard on the patient and has numerous side effects.
That’s why this electromagnetic approach could be so effective. It stops these hard-to-treat cells from spreading. The research also found that combining electromagnetic energy with specific drug therapies — particularly those that target cell growth signals carried by the AKT protein — could have an even more significant impact.
This study is just a first step in the possible uses of electromagnetic energy to stop the spread of cancer cells in the human body. But it is very exciting because metastatic cancer causes the most cancer deaths.
“What we showed, biologically, is that these cancer cells are becoming profoundly less metastatic, which is a very important finding,” writes Mr. Song in the study.
The next step will be to verify the results of this Ohio State University study in animals.