Science Questions

Is there any relationship between stem cells and cancer?

Sat, 14th Sep 2013

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Reham Foad asked:



I am doing my EPQ about show stem cells are related to cancer


I would like to know if

stem cells are a reason for cancer to accrue?


can stem cells cure cancer?


what are the latest researches to this subject?


If you can help me with anything i'll be grateful



Thank you






Kat - Now itís time to look at your burning genetics questions. Reham Foad wants to know if stem cells are a reason for cancer, and if stem cells can cure cancer. To answer, hereís Hayley Frend, whoís studying for a PhD in cancer stem cells at Cambridge University.

Hayley -   Scientists now believe that in at least some cancers, a subset of the cells exist which are far more powerful than any of the other cells in cancer.  Itís these cells which drive the growth and spread of the cancer, and we call these cancer stem cells.  But that name is actually a little bit confusing because we donít really know if these cancer stem cells are normal healthy stem cells gone bad or whether they're actually derived from a different type of cell together.  They could be a different type of cell which now looks a bit like a stem cell, but a bad one.

Kat -   How are they actually involved in fuelling cancer?

Hayley -   So, these stem cells are the ones that will divide lots of times to give rise to the tumour that you have in your primary cancer.  But they're also the cells that will be able to break off and go elsewhere in the body and cause what we call metastases.  This is when cancer can really accelerate and grab hold.

Kat -   Can stem cells cure cancer?

Hayley -   Well, if weíre talking about the cancer stem cells I just described, well, if we can develop therapies to target these cells in particular, that would give us a really powerful weapon.  It would be like using a sniper to take out the commander in chief.  But there are also talks of using our normal healthy non-cancerous stem cells to treat cancer.  So, these stem cell therapies are currently being used to treat cancers of the blood or bone marrow, or lymphatic system.  And so, what these involve is harvesting a personís normal healthy stem cells or it could be a close relative and then using radiation to completely wipe out the cancerous tissue, for example, the lymphatic system. And then that gives you a completely blank canvass to re-implant those stem cells to give rise to a new healthy organ which doesnít have cancer. 

Although itís important to note, we can't use those treatments for all cancers and sometimes itís rather than a cure weíre looking at, giving a patient more time.  So now, itís probably a bit too much to say stem cells can cure cancer, they certainly give us another powerful weapon to use.


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