50 years ago, starving tumors of oxygen proposed as weapon in cancer fight | Science News

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50 Years Ago

50 years ago, starving tumors of oxygen proposed as weapon in cancer fight

Excerpt from the May 4, 1968 issue of Science News

11:00am, May 4, 2018
mouse breast tumor

AIR SUPPLY  Depriving some cancerous tumors, such as this mouse breast tumor, of oxygen by cutting off blood vessels (red) is one treatment approach. But some oxygen-starved cancer cells (green) can become more aggressive.

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Starve the tumor, not the cell

Animal experiments demonstrate for the first time that transplanted tumors release a chemical into the host’s bloodstream that causes the host to produce blood vessels to supply the tumor.… If such a factor can be identified in human cancers … it might be possible to prevent the vascularization of tumors. Since tumors above a certain small size require a blood supply to live, they might by this method be starved to death. — Science News, May 4, 1968


By the 1990s, starving tumors had become a focus of cancer research. Several drugs available today limit a tumor’s blood supply. But the approach can actually drive some cancer cells to proliferate, researchers have found. For those cancers, scientists have proposed treatments that open up tumors’ gnarled blood vessels, letting more oxygen through. Boosting oxygen may thwart some cancer cell defenses and promote blood flow — allowing chemotherapy drugs and immune cells deeper access to tumors (SN: 3/4/17, p. 24).


Science News Staff. Starve the tumor, not the cell. Science News. Vol. 93, May 4, 1968, p. 427.

Further Reading

L. Beil. Instead of starving a cancer, researchers go after its defenses. Science News. Vol. 191, March 4, 2017, p. 24.

T.H. Saey. Dangerous digsScience News. Vol. 184, September 27, 2013, p. 20. 

C. Wigerup, S. Påhlman and D. Bexell. Therapeutic targeting of hypoxia and hypoxia-inducible factors in cancer. Pharmacology & Therapeutics. Vol. 164, August 2016, p. 152. doi: 10.1016/j.pharmthera.2016.04.009.

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