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Inflammation's Newly Recognized Role in Cancer

Inflammation helps promote healing. But chronic inflammation can play a role in various diseases, and researchers are beginning to appreciate that inflammation may help tumors grow and spread. Anti-inflammatory medications could be the next wave of cancer drugs. Steve Mirsky reports.

The medical dictionary definition of inflammation is the reaction of a part of the body to injury or infection, characterized by swelling, heat, redness and pain.  The process includes increased blood flow with an influx of white blood cells and other chemical substances that facilitate healing.  So inflammation is good.  Except when it’s bad.  In the past 15 years, the medical community has realized that inflammation contributes to heart disease, by helping to form arterial plaque, and to diabetes and possibly even to depression. 

And according to an article in the July issue of Scientific American, more and more researchers are coming to the realization that inflammation may also play a crucial role in the development of cancer.  Until recently, genetic changes were the primary focus of cancer study.  But in the last decade it’s become clear that developing tumors can take over some of the molecular apparatus of inflammation and use it to grow and spread.  The good news is that this realization opens up a new realm of possible anticancer drugs.  Anti-inflammatory medications might have the potential to stop new tumors in their tracks.

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