How is cancer caused by ionizing radiation? A new study by DOE researchers challenges the notion that DNA damage is the sole action of radiation as a carcinogen. A small piece of tumor was transplanted into irradiated mice to determine if radiation exposure of the surrounding host tissue would affect the growth of the resulting tumor. The group identified two distinct carcinogenic mechanisms mediated by the surrounding host tissue. One mechanism affected tumor latency—tumors grew more quickly in irradiated vs. unirradiated mice. The second mechanism influenced the specific type of cancer produced—tumors in the irradiated mice were much more likely to be estrogen receptor negative. These data reinforce the concept that signals from surrounding irradiated cells can promote the process of carcinogenesis. Unlike initial DNA damage, radiation effects originating from the surrounding cell microenvironment develop in a non-linear fashion with respect to dose, underscoring the complexity of the biological effect. The research was led by Mary Helen Barcellos-Hoff of New York University and has been published in Cancer Cell and highlighted in Nature.
References: Nguyen, D. H., et al. 2011. "Radiation Acts on the Microenvironment To Affect Breast Carcinogenesis by Distinct Mechanisms that Decrease Cancer Latency and Affect Tumor Type," Cancer Cell 19, 640–651. Anonymous. 2011. "Cancer: Radiation's Double Whammy," Nature 473, 423.
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