Caffeine may aid cancer treatment

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Caffeine could offer doctors a powerful new weapon for fighting a major killer cancer, its is reported today. Laboratory experiments show that caffeine improves the effectiveness of radiotherapy on large bowel cancer cells by up to 150 per cent.

The amount of caffeine needed to reproduce the same effect in patients would poison the nervous system. But scientists at Bristol University are trying out other caffeine-like chemicals in the hope that they will be both effective and safe.

The new research, funded by the Cancer Research Campaign, involves adding caffeine to cancer cells immediately after they are exposed to radiation.

Both radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatments work by damaging the DNA of cancer cells so that they self-destruct. Bowel cancer cells are particularly resistant to these treatments because they effectively repair the DNA and do not die. Caffeine appears to prevent the cells repairing the damage caused by radiotherapy. In the tests, it dramatically increased the number of cells made to self-destruct.