Colon cancer is nasty. You can get it at any age. Medical guidelines recommend starting colonoscopy testing around 50 years of age. But colon cancer has now been striking earlier and earlier. It comes on silently and deadly seemingly out of left field.
Colon cancer has two dangerous traits:
1. These cells are very resistant to all known treatments.
2. They hide.
Resistance: Colon cancer cells are very hard to kill. Colon cancer cells turn off a protein called HOXA5. This is a group of cells that, when a fetus is developing, help the mom’s body figure out which stem cells are hers, which are the fetuses and which are safe and which are not. This family of cells are protective and regulate healthy growth of healthy cells and help identify dangerous cells that need to be fought.
Hides: Even if you get MRIs and CAT scan reports that the radiologist declares show you are “free” of disease, these cells can be hiding in the many folds of the gut. They often escape diagnoses as they lie in flat sheet-like forms that are not easily picked up by any type of imaging. So a “clean bill of health” MUST be taken with a suspicious grain of salt.
Vitamin A: Scientists have now identified how to “reactivate” this group of protective proteins (HOXA5) to stop colon cancer stem cells from growing and spreading. It’s done with Vitamin A.
When a person with colon cancer is treated, colon cancer cells die. But it’s hard to kill the cancer stem cells. They still lurk around in hidden crevices. Colon cancer cells can do the same. They hide not only from detection but also from treatment.
But, researchers from Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, have identified that Retinoids, the vitamin A family, turn HOXA5 genes back on. By rebooting HOXA5 genes, the blocking mechanism comes back into place. Now the growth and spread of both cancerous stem cells and cancerous colon cells that usually rebound after treatment regimes, is stopped.
Their research started in mice but has been replicated in humans!
It seems that retinoids—vitamin A—NOT beta-carotene—differentiates, meaning to control, colon cancer stem cells. Thus it seems prudent that Vitamin A repletion (treatment—under the care of a smart nutritional doc) makes sense, not only for existing disease, but also for prevention in all of us, especially high-risk people. Dosage and delivery have to be individualized so you must work with an expert.
Paloma Ordóñez-Morán, Caroline Dafflon, Masamichi Imajo, Eisuke Nishida, Joerg Huelsken. HOXA5 Counteracts Stem Cell Traits by Inhibiting Wnt Signaling in Colorectal Cancer. Cancer Cell, 2015; 28 (6): 815 DOI: 10.1016/j.ccell.2015.11.001