There is an unusual cancer and a new theory that could explain why it spontaneously goes away without treatment.
Some cancers, as I’ve blogged before, can be cured without medical help at all.
These cases offer a tantalising reminder of cancer’s fallibility – a glimpse of a possible future where cancer’s incredible complexity could be fully understood, and new treatments will control it by taking advantage of inbuilt weaknesses.
One ‘self-curing’ cancer is called transient amplifying leukaemia. Rare in the general population, it is very common in infants with Down syndrome – developing in around a third of children. The association occurs because the genetic cause of Down syndrome can also affect the action of the gene, called GATA1, which causes this type of leukaemia.
Usually there is no treatment required, because in most cases it simply resolves within a year. After an expansion in the number of cancerous stem cells before and after birth, they gradually die out, although in a few cases leukaemic stem cells will acquire additional mutations that lead to a more aggressive cancer, called acute megakaryoblastic leukemia (AMKL).
The question that has intrigued cancer researchers is why a population of cancerous stem cells – each equipped with the cellular machinery to make millions of copies of itself – spontaneously disappears?
A fascinating new article in Stem Cells by a team including Dr Benjamin Werner, from the ICR’s Centre for Evolution and Cancer, gives a possible explanation. And it could also help explain why childhood and adult cancers are often so different from each other.