Cancer is second leading cause of death in the United States, and lung cancer is the most common cancer type worldwide. Although non-small cell lung cancer is more common than small cell lung cancer (SCLC), the latter is harder to treat and has greater potential to metastasize. Even after combination treatments with chemotherapy and radiation, resistant metastatic SCLC tumors often emerge after a year and kill patients within a few months after. Several research groups at the Medical University of Vienna, the Otto Wagner Hospital, and the Ludwig Boltzmann Cluster of Translational Oncology in Vienna, Austria, collaborated to discover some novel insights into why metastatic SCLC cells are resistant to such cancer treatments. They first established a permanently replicating cell line of these human cancer cells, which allows them to do experiments in a dish without using human subjects or animals. They discovered that these cancer cells tend to form clusters with oxygen-deprived cores that remain dormant. Not only do the clusters limit the penetration of chemotherapeutic drugs, the lack of oxygen radicals at this core also makes them resistant to radiation. This study suggests that future therapeutic strategies focused on preventing these cells from forming clusters or breaking them up may be more effective.
Hamilton H, Hochmair M, Rath B, Klameth L, Zeillinger R. Small cell lung cancer: circulating tumor cells of extended stage patients express a mesenchymal-epithelial transition phenotype. Cell Adh Migr. 2016;26:18.