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Treating psychological and physiological stress could prevent metastases in cancer patients

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According to a research team from Tel Aviv University, to prevent development of metastases in weeks before and after tumor removal surgery, patients need immunotherapeutic treatment along with treatment to reduce inflammation, and physical and psychological stress


Researchers and scientists from Tel Aviv University have found that the weeks before and after tumor removal surgery are critical when it comes to stopping cancer from spreading.

According to the team, metastases can be found to develop when the body is under both physical and psychological stress.

Led by Prof. Shamgar Ben-Eliyahu from the School of Psychological Sciences and Sagol School of Neuroscience at Tel Aviv University and Prof. Oded Zmora from Shamir Medical Center, the researchers discovered that “to prevent the development of metastases after the surgery, patients need immunotherapeutic treatment along with treatment to reduce inflammation and physical and psychological stress.”

Ben-Eliyahu explained that immunotherapeutic treatment “is a medical treatment activating the immune system.

One such treatment, he said, would be to inject substances with similar receptors to those of viruses and bacteria into the patient’s body. 

“The immune system recognizes them as a threat and activates itself, thus it can prevent a metastatic disease,” he stressed. “Surgery for the removal of the primary tumor is a mainstay in cancer treatment, however the risk of developing metastases after surgery is estimated at 10% among breast cancer patients, at 20%-40% among colorectal cancer patients, and at 80% among pancreas cancer patients.”

Ben-Eliyahu pointed out that when the body is under physiological or psychological stress, like surgery, hormones known as prostaglandin and catecholamine are produced in large quantities. “These hormones suppress the immune system cells’ activity, and thus indirectly increase the development of metastases,” he said.

According to Ben-Eliyahu’s research, these hormones also help tumor cells left after the surgery to develop into life threatening metastases, which means exposure to such hormones can cause tumor tissues to become more aggressive and spread.

“Medical and immunotherapeutic intervention to reduce psychological and physiological stress, and activate the immune system in the critical period before and after the surgery, can prevent the development of metastases,” Ben-Eliyahu said, adding that the spread of the left over cancer cells may only be discovered months or years later.

He highlighted that “anti-metastatic treatment today skips the critical period around the surgery, which leaves medical staff to face the consequences of treating progressive and resistant metastatic processes” that are much harder to stop.”

Ben-Eliyahu’s discovery contradicts the well-known assumption in the medical community, which claims that “just like in chemo and radiotherapy, it is not recommended to give cancer patients immunotherapeutic treatment in the month before and after the surgery.”

The research was published recently in Nature magazine.

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