Scientists Diether Lambrechts and Bernard Thienpont of the University of Leuven (Blegium) have discovered that an oxygen deficiency in tumour cells contributes to the growth of cancer and that an improvement of the oxygen supply to tumours inhibits the growth of cancer cells. The results were published in the professional journal Nature.
Both professors showed, based on a study of 3,000 tumours of patients, that oxygen deficiency plays an important role in hypermethylation, a process which stimulates the excessive growth of cancer cells, and is even the cause of this in half of the cases. This mechanism was demonstrated both in breast cancer and in tumours in the bladder, intestines, head and neck, kidneys, lungs and uterus.
In an ensuing phase, they researched whether an improved oxygen supply would inhibit cancer development, which turned out to be true. Based on tests on mice, they were able to demonstrate that it suffices to normalise the blood supply - and therefore the oxygen supply - to stop the hypermethylation process.
These results clear the path for the development of new cancer medication which focuses on the blood circulation. After all, the veins can supply extra oxygen to the tumours, which is an interesting way to counter for instance an aggressive relapse. By monitoring the oxygen supply to tumours, predictions could also be made on the projected course and possible treatments of cancer. The scientists consider it possible as well to optimise existing treatments with chemotherapy via the circulation system.