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Testicular Cancer Cells Weakened by Heat

Finding could explain increased survival in men with this disease

TUESDAY, July 25, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Heat sensitivity may make testicular cancer cells more susceptible to standard cancer treatments, prompting them to die off more readily than other kinds of cancer cells, new research suggests.

The finding may help explain why seven-time Tour de France bicycle race champion Lance Armstrong and other testicular cancer patients have far better survival rates than patients with other advanced cancers.

In order to keep heat-sensitive sperm safe, the testes are a few degrees cooler than the rest of the body. When testicular cancer cells spread to the rest of the body, warmer temperatures may cause a weakening of protein scaffolding within the nucleus of the cells, said a team of Johns Hopkins researchers reporting in the July 26 Journal of the American Medical Association.

This increase in heat makes the DNA in the cancer cell's nucleus more vulnerable to radiation and chemotherapy, they said.

The Baltimore experts reviewed more than 30 years of research on testicular cancer. They suggested that heat also may prove effective against other kinds of cancer.

"If we understand how heat may naturally help kill testicular cancer cells, then perhaps we can make it happen in other solid tumors. More than 80 percent of men with widespread testicular cancer can achieve a cure. In other cancers, the cure rate is far less," Robert Getzenberg, professor and director of urology research at Johns Hopkins, said in a prepared statement.

In the past, scientists have noted that fevers accompanying infections sometimes improved outcomes for cancer patients. However, until now, no link has been made between heat and weakened protein scaffolding in testicular cancer cells.

The Hopkins team plans to study ways to deliver heat directly to cancer cells and to test the methods in animals.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about testicular cancer.

SOURCE: Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, news release, July 25, 2005
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