Cancer-capable Cells Promoted by Low Dose Radiation


A new mouse study published in Cell Stem Cell concluded that low doses of radiation equilavent to three CT scans, which are considered safe, give cancer-capable cells a competative advantage over normal cells and promotes their spread. It increased the number of cells with mutations in p53, a well-known genetic change associated with cancer. When they gave the mice anti-oxidants before radiation it promoted the growth of healthy cells that outcompeted and replaced the p53 mutant cells.  It is known that we all have cancer-capable cells in our healthy tissue including those with p53 and these increase with age. However, few eventually form cancer.

Researchers gave mice N-Acetyl Cysteine, an over the counter antioxidant, before exposing them to the same level of radiation and discovered it gave normal cells a boost to outcompete and eradicate the p53 mutant cells.  However, antioxidants alone without exposure to radiation did not help normal cells overcome mutant ones.  Researchers said “Giving mice an anti-oxidant before exposing them to low doses of radiation gave healthy cells the extra boost needed to fight  against the mutant cells in the esophagus and make them disappear. However, we don’t know the effects this therapy would have in other tissues-it could help cancer-capable cells elsewhere become stronger.  What we do know is that long term use of antioxidants alone is not effective in preventing cancer in people, according to the study.”

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