Cancer is a debilitating, life-changing disease that takes the lives of millions each year. The disease occurs when cells in the body split uncontrollably and incorrectly in a certain location. The extra cells then combine to form tumors.
While there is currently no cure, medical practitioners have begun using stem cell therapy to combat cancer. Keep reading below to learn how.
Traditional Cancer Treatments
The effects of Cancer are brutal on the human body, which is why doctors and researchers have experimented with different ways to treat the condition. Results vary case to case and while some of the traditional methods cure patients of cancer, it leaves them dealing with a wake of nasty side effects. Treatments which cause these secondary effects include:
- Radiation therapy: According to the National Cancer Institute, “radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) is a cancer treatment that uses high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.” This type of high dose treatment damages the DNA of the cancer cells, but it also negatively impacts the surrounding healthy cells. This typically causes the patient to lose their hair and battle constant fatigue as well as experience a variety of other negative effects.
- Chemotherapy: The American Cancer Society says that chemotherapy uses drugs to combat cancer cells throughout the body, not just in one localized area. Medical practitioners use chemo for “cure, control, or palliation,” depending on the severity of the case. Side effects include fatigue, hair loss, and nausea, among other things.
These side effects are severe and common without front-line cancer care. However, recently special cells called “stem cells” are making an appearance and changing the way we fight cancer.
Stem Cell Therapy
Although it has proved promising so far, stem cell therapy is still in the early stages of development and is not yet used as a front line treatment option.
The process involves using healthy stem cells, which are functional, blood-producing, ‘blank-slate’ cells from a multicellular organism, to treat or prevent diseases. Currently, two sources for stem cells exist: embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells.
Embryonic stem cells are taken from embryos which are donated by those undergoing in vitro fertilization. These cells are unlimited in their possibilities and can be made to grow into any other type of cell, such as muscle tissue, organ cells, and the like.
Adult stem cells are cells from a donor. These are most commonly taken from fully developed tissues, such as bone marrow. In cases like these, the donated stem cells are placed to help regenerate tissues. For instance, they can be used to help heal heart tissue in a patient suffering from heart disease.
Practitioners have found several consistent uses for stem cell therapy, but researchers are still running clinical trials to determine side effects and other potential uses. Bone marrow transplants are the most common type, with the national marrow donor program providing much of the transplanted material.
Every type of stem cell therapy involves blood cells. Blood is typically divided into three peripheral blood cells: white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. Each of them have very specific, specialized roles.
- White blood cells: They are a major part of your body’s immune system. These cells attack other cells that they view as foreign or potentially harmful.
- Red blood cells: These cells deliver oxygen throughout your body.
- Platelets: These cells allow your blood to clot when necessary.
While medical practitioners are using stem cell therapy to fight a variety of diseases, cancer is one of their primary targets to treat with stem cells. But where do the stem cells come from? This article from the National Cancer Institute defines three different types of stem cell therapy:
- Autologous transplant: In this type of therapy, the stem cells come from the patient. These cells can be pulled from a variety of areas within the body.
- Allogeneic transplant: Allogeneic stem cell transplants involve the use of someone else’s cell. They may or may not be a relative.
- Syngeneic transplant: In this instance, the stem cells come from an identical twin.
How do stem cells combat cancer?
How stem cell therapy is used is different depending on what type of cancer the patient has. There are two main ways that this therapy can help cancer patients overcome their disease:
- Recovery: Traditional treatments like chemo and radiation can negatively impact a patient’s ability to produce stem cells. This is the most common way that practitioners use stem cell therapy. In essence, this therapy serves as a treatment to help the patient recover from the treatment.
- Direct Combat: The use of stem cell therapy to directly combat cancer is much more rare, as it is limited to combating leukemia and multiple myeloma, which is a cancer of the white blood cells. After an allogeneic transplant, a battle occurs between the implanted cells and the disease.
Side Effects of Stem Cell Therapy
While stem cell therapy has provided positive results for some cancer patients, there are some significant side effects that can occur.
- Graft versus host disease: In this case, the patient’s white blood cells essentially do their job too well. Viewing the implanted cells as foreign, the patient’s white blood cells then attack the stem cells. Many different body parts and organs may bear the brunt of this internal warfare. Steroids are an option to desensitize the immune system and are a viable option, but that also means that the immune system is weakened to other legitimate threats as well.
- Pain: This is usually not a long-lasting side effect. Pain can affect the recipient both in the area where the stem cells are drawn from or where they are injected.
What Does the Future Hold for Stem Cell Therapy for Cancer?
Stem cell therapy is continuing to grow in popularity and acceptance. The results so far have been nothing less than promising, and practitioners believe that the full potential of the treatment has not been discovered. Cancer, which previously has been considered untouchable and incurable, is looking more and more stoppable.
The Arizona Pain and Spine Institute offers stem cell therapy for cancer. The treatment usually takes place in as little as three to four hours, allowing our practitioners time to retrieve your stem cells, evaluate them and regenerate more if necessary, and inject them back into your body.
If you are suffering from cancer, stem cell therapy offered at Arizona Pain and Spine Institute may help you on your road to recovery. Schedule an appointment with us today. Our passionate, experienced team wants to help you overcome this brutal disease, and stem cell therapy may be your best solution.