Why cancer cells go to sleep: the mystery of cancer dormancy

New studies are challenging our understanding of the disease and teaching us more about dormant cells.

Cancer has always been thought of as something that grows rapidly and uncontrollably, but this view may be wrong. New evidence suggests that cancer alternatively uses the “accelerator” and the “brake” to survive.

If you plot the growth of prostate cancer tumour progression over years, you get a graph that looks something like this:

Figure 1. An example of prostate cancer progression. Modified from research on cell.com 

The chart shows that prostate cancer cells alternate periods of rapid growth with periods of dormancy. In the above example, the tumour will grow to the point where it starts to produce symptoms and the patient seeks treatment – which usually involves cutting the tumour out.

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