Cancer cells rely on the healthy cells that surround them for sustenance. They reroute blood vessels to nourish themselves, and secrete chemicals that scramble immune responses.
Recent research shows that cancer cells even recruit and manipulate neurons for their own gain. And not only for brain cancers, but also for prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, and stomach cancer.
Stanford University neuroscientists review how tumors exploit neuronal signals.
“There is no part of the body that is not well innervated,” says Michelle Monje of the Stanford University School of Medicine, “so why shouldn’t cancer cells co-opt them for their own needs?”
Cancer treatments cut off blood vessel and nutrient supply routes. Monje believes that it may be possible to block secreted neural growth factors. However, blocking neural activity can be dangerous.
Monje argues that, though brains need to be active and functioning, the specific molecular pathways co-opted by tumors could be interrupted.
Research into the full molecular details of cancer-nerve partnerships are underway.
The connection between tumor cells and nerves sheds new light on the nature of cancer and possible treatments.
Cancers do not grow out of thin air. They have to be in the right microenvironment. Nerve cells and the chemicals they secrete can help cancer cells feel at home.
The nervous system in the body extends to each and every part of it, providing pathways for the parasitic cancer cells to thrive and spread.