A new research has suggested that patients who experience physical or psychological stress - including rigorous exercise - one or two days before a cancer treatment might be unknowingly sabotaging their therapy.
Stress in the body - even physical stress caused by intense exercise - activates a stress-sensitive protein that can spark a series of events that allow cancer cells to survive such treatments as chemotherapy and radiation, according to the research.
Though the study involved a series of experiments in breast cancer cell cultures, the researchers say the findings are a clear indication that cancer cells have found a way to adapt and resist treatment with the help of this stress-inducible protein.
This cancer cell survival can be traced to the presence of heat shock factor-1, which previous research has linked to stress.
Ohio State University researchers first noticed that this common protein can help heart tissue survive in a toxic environment, leading the scientists to suspect that in cancer, this phenomenon could have serious consequences.
A series of experiments using breast cancer cells showed that a protein activated by the presence of heat shock factor-1 could block the process that kills cancer cells even after the cells' DNA was damaged by radiation. The same was true when the cells were subjected to a common chemotherapy drug.
The researchers hope to develop a drug that could suppress heat shock factor-1 as a supplement to cancer therapy, but in the meantime, they recommend that patients avoid both psychological and physical stress in the days leading up to a cancer treatment.
The study appears online in the journal Molecular Cancer Research.