The New York Times has a story about new experimental trials on cancer stem cells that drive tumor growth. Cancerous cells do not undergo apoptosis easily, which is why cancer is such a tough disease. But the new idea is that the bulk of cancer cells eventually die just like regular cells – the culprit is a particular type of cancer cell terms a cancerous stem cell. The problem with conventional treatments, in this view, is that cancerous stem cells are impervious to them. Chemotherapy and radiation kill most cancer cells, but they don’t kill the stem cells.
This theory is not accepted by everyone in oncology, to say the least. But NCI is funding research and three major cancer centers are launching projects to investigate cancer stem cells and ways to counteract them.