Scientists are constantly searching for new and innovative treatments for cancer. Recent research suggests that enhancing circadian clocks may slow tumor growth and assist in cancer treatment.
A disrupted circadian rhythm is a common consequence of modern life. People often find that they are not able to get enough sleep due to busy work schedules and other obligations. In addition, traveling and other common activities leave many of us jet lagged and depleted. This has been found to have a variety of negative physical and psychological effects, but the recent links between circadian rhythm disruption and cancer suggest that the consequences may even be deadly.
Circadian Disruption and Cancer
Circadian rhythm disruption has been linked to a variety of cancers, including breast cancer, colon cancer and melanoma. Irregular levels of melatonin are believed to be the reason for this link. Melatonin is an integral part of the cell cycle, telling cells when to perform critical DNA repair processes so they can reproduce safely. When melatonin levels are low at the wrong times, cells do not perform repair and rebuilding processes as well. This is believed to be one of the roots causes of one of the world’s most deadly diseases: Cancer.
Can helping tumor cells to regulate their intrinsic circadian rhythm assist in treating cancer? A group of researchers explored this question and came up with surprising answers.
New Study Finds Circadian Clocks Integral in Cancer Treatment
Clock genes, which regulate the circadian rhythm, are suppressed in many of the most common cancers. Researchers took melanoma cells and induced a healthy circadian rhythm using dexamethasone, forskolin or heat shock. Melanoma cells that responded to this treatment by adopting a healthy circadian rhythm showed far less growth after the treatment. In other words, inducing clock genes to re-adopt their native rhythm may be a potential way of slowing or stopping tumor growth.
Melanoma cells are not the only cancer cells to respond to this treatment. Certain genotypes of colon cancer also stop or slow growth when a healthy circadian rhythm is induced. However, this treatment does not work when the clock gene BMAL1 has been “knocked out.” The implications are clear: A functioning circadian rhythm may be crucial for healthy cells, but it appears to have a negative effect on the proliferation of cancer cells.
Chronobiology: The Next Big Cancer Treatment?
Many treatments for cancer are highly invasive or just plain uncomfortable. Surgery to remove cancer can require a long recovery; chemotherapy can affect healthy cells and thus leave people feeling fatigued and ill. However, reinstating a healthy circadian rhythm has only positive effects in the treatment of cancer.
Though this research focuses on the intrinsic circadian rhythm of cancer cells, if you are concerned about cancer prevention, maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm is key. A functional circadian rhythm can help you to feel healthier both today and over the course of a lifetime.