Kathryn E. Vinson, MS, CCRC
Radiation therapy has been used in cancer treatment for well over a century, since roughly 1899. Those 120 years have taught physicians and scientists ways to make the beams more precise and treatments more effective. With roughly 60% of cancer patients receiving radiation at some point in their treatments, I thought we should take some time to understand not only how radiation works to kill cancer, but also some exciting news about a drug in development that may help make radiation more effective.
I thought radiation caused cancer!
If you’re like me, you have probably stopped at least once and said, “Hold up – I thought radiation caused cancer, how is this going to help!” Guess what, you’re not completely wrong. Radiation can cause cancers by altering DNA and producing abnormal growth in cells (the thyroid is particularly susceptible); however, it is this same ability to wreak havoc on tumor DNA that gives radiation its ability to kill cancer. Specifically, radiation can cause sufficient damage to tumor DNA that it prevents it from replicating. Radiation can also cause the production of free radicals within the body, which can also destroy cancerous cells. When the tumor cells die, they are simply disposed of in the manner that our bodies dispose of normal cells.
Radiation therapy also comes in different forms. The most well known is easily external beam radiation, but also commonly used are internal radiation and systemic radiation. With internal radiation, known as brachytherapy, radioactive sources (usually beads or seeds) are placed inside the body, either temporarily or permanently. Systemic radiation is a treatment such as radioactive iodine used to treat thyroid cancer.
Fortunately for our healthy tissues, we have highly trained radiation oncologists that know how to precisely aim these beams and place those pellets at the correct strengths to cause as little damage to surrounding structures as possible.
Boosting radiation efficacy
One thing that researchers have wanted to accomplish is to make tumor cells more susceptible to radiation, thereby making these treatments more effective. Just imagine getting the same result with fewer treatments, or better results with the same number of treatments! Researchers at Brown University have been working on just that.
Previously, researchers had developed a drug known as IUdR that was shown to make tumor cells more susceptible to radiation; however, the drug could only be give intravenously and caused numerous side effects. In response to this problem, a new drug called IPdR was developed. IPdR is a pro-drug – meaning that it is a precursor that when ingested, turns into another compound in the body – in this case, the IUdR. What is amazing with this pro-drug, is that patients can take the medicine orally before going in for radiation treatments, with minimal side effects.
The results of this study were spectacular. Patients were able to take doses of up to 1,200 mg of IPdR per day, which produced a therapeutic level of IUdR in their bloodstreams. The effects on tumors were the following:
- 1 person’s tumor completely disappeared
- 3 people saw their tumors shrink
- The tumors in 9 other people “stagnated”
More testing will need to be conducted on this compound before it is commercially available, but the hope that this provides for all cancer patients is phenomenal. Our hats go off to Dr. Timothy Kinsella and his colleagues on this amazing work!
As always, much love, many prayers, and abundant blessings to all of the warriors out there!