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No. 127: Jan-Feb 2000

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Traitors Within

One of the insidious talents of cancers is their ability to coax neighboring, normal tissue to do their bidding. What cancer cells need most, if they are to grow, is sustenance, as normally provided by blood vessels. Obligingly, even though it could lead to their own demise, the tissues surrounding the cancer will grow new blood vessels to supply the killer in their midst.

Cancer growing on cell
It has now been discovered that some particularly aggressive cancers, some melanomas, for example, can grow without the help of nearby subverted tissue. They can manufacture their own blood vessels which carry nourishment to malignant cells deep in the cancers. These self-made blood vessels differ from normal vessels in their lack of endothelial cells. They are also organized in distinctive patterns of loops around clusters of cancer cells. Normal blood vessels tend to be arranged more randomly

Although they originate in specialized tissues, such as the prostate gland, the cells in aggressive cancers become unspecialized. In a sense, they revert to embryonic cells that can then become any kind of cell, such as those in blood vessels. Cancer cells are atavistic -- throwbacks to the womb.

(Barinaga, Marcia; "New Type of Blood Vessel Found in Tumors," Science, 285: 1475, 1999. Spinney, Laura; "Organized Killers," New Scientist, p. 11, September 11, 1999.)

Comment. It's all very insidious -- like some alien entity from the pages of science fiction with its own agenda that aims to take over one's body. But the infected body dies before the transformation is complete. One has to wonder how these seemingly autonomous cancer cells with such clever tricks ever evolved when they always die along with their victims. There's no feedback!

From Science Frontiers #127, JAN-FEB 2000. 1997 William R. Corliss