Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions

Combating Disease: Turning up the heat to kill cancer cells:
“The Lance Armstrong effect”

January 17, 2012

Turning up the heat to kill cancer
cells: “The Lance Armstrong effect”
Credit: Testicular Cancer Society.


The “Lance Armstrong effect” could become a powerful
new weapon to fight cancer cells that develop resistance
to chemotherapy, radiation and other treatments, scientists
say in a report in the ACS journal Molecular Pharmaceutics.

Today’s solution addresses the development of an innovative method for killing cancer cells by heating them up.

While many advances have occurred in the 40 years since President Nixon declared a “War on Cancer” on December 23, 1971, cancer remains a leading cause of death worldwide, claiming almost 8 million lives annually. In a search for new, more effective approaches, a research team is conducting tests to learn whether information they have learned from treatment for one form of the disease might help them better attack cancer elsewhere in the body. Robert Getzenberg of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine Baltimore, Md., explains.

“Patients with testicular cancer have a high survival rate — more than 70 percent — even if the cancer metastasizes, or spreads. For example, Lance Armstrong, the famous cyclist, beat metastatic testicular cancer that spread to his lungs and brain, and then went on to win the Tour de France a record seven consecutive times. But patients with pancreatic cancer have only a 25 percent survival rate in the first year and a 6 percent survival rate by the fifth year after diagnosis. Why is this?”

In studying the cancers, the team discovered that the microenvironment of testicular cancer cells was a little different from other areas of that body attacked by the disease.

“Testicles are usually several degrees cooler than the rest of the body, because of their position outside the body. When cancer cells from the testicles spread to other organs, such as the lungs or brain, they encounter a warmer environment. We propose that this warmth shocks the tumor cells, making them more susceptible to conventional cancer therapies, leading to a higher survival rate among testicular cancer patients. This is the so-called “Lance Armstrong effect.”

Armed with this information, the researchers are trying a new approach to cancer treatment in various parts of the body.

“We are now carrying out tests on nanoparticle therapies to specifically heat other types of tumors above their normal temperatures to see whether this effect holds true for non-testicular cancers.”

Smart Chemists/Innovative Thinking

Smart chemists. Innovative thinking. That’s the key to solving global challenges of the 21st Century. Please check out more of our full-length podcasts on wide-ranging issues facing chemistry and science, such as promoting public health, developing new fuels and confronting climate change, at Today’s podcast was written by Michael Bernstein. I’m Adam Dylewski at the American Chemical Society in Washington.

Robert Getzenberg, Ph.D.,
Johns Hopkins University
School of Medicine
Baltimore, Md.