Research ArticleCancer

Fasting Cycles Retard Growth of Tumors and Sensitize a Range of Cancer Cell Types to Chemotherapy

Science Translational Medicine  07 Mar 2012:
Vol. 4, Issue 124, pp. 124ra27
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3003293

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Fasting: Good for You, Bad for Tumors

Many promising cancer drugs being developed will require years to become approved by regulatory bodies and, in most cases, will only be effective for a fraction of patients with specific types of cancer. It is therefore important to develop broader, complementary strategies that can be translated rapidly into effective therapies. Two to 4 days of fasting before chemotherapy treatment is safe and protect animals, and possibly humans, against the side effects of chemotherapy. Here, cycles of fasting for 2 days in the absence of other treatments are shown to delay the progression of several tumor types in mice and, in some cases, to be as effective as toxic chemotherapy drugs. However, the combination of fasting and chemotherapy was much more effective than either alone and delayed the progression of a variety of tumors, including breast cancer and glioma, reduced the number of organs affected by melanoma metastases, and promoted long-term cancer-free survival in up to 40% of mice with neuroblastomas. In mice injected with human breast and ovarian cancer cells, fasting cycles promoted survival extension by protecting the mice from chemotherapy while causing a strong inhibition of tumor progression. Experiments in simple organisms, human cells, and mice indicated that these effects of fasting were caused by changes inside and outside cells that increased the death of tumor but not normal cells, a process termed differential stress sensitization.

Although clinical trials testing the effect of fasting in cancer treatment are still in the early stages, they suggest that fasting cycles may boost the efficacy of chemotherapeutic agents and could be as effective as chemotherapy drugs in the killing of specific tumor cells.