Cancer treatment 'speeds up recovery'

DOCTORS in Manchester are pioneering a new treatment for cancer patients which helps them recover more quickly from toxic anti-cancer drugs, and may provide an alternative to bone marrow transplants.

The treatment involves removal of certain white blood cells - known as stem cells - from patients before they undergo high dose chemotherapy, and transfusion of the cells back into the patient once their course of drugs is complete. Doctors at the Christie Hospital and the Paterson Institute for Cancer Research have found that numbers of white cells which fight infection and platelets which prevent bleeding, return to normal much sooner after the transfusion.

Anti-cancer drugs are toxic to healthy cells as well as cancerous ones, and the bone marrow where blood cells and platelets are made, is one of the tissues hardest hit. It takes some time to recover even at normal doses. However, for many patients who need high dose or intensive therapy, their bone marrow is destroyed and costly transplants have been the only solution. The Manchester scientists have developed a technique which allowed them to extract a greater number of stem cells in one go, so that a transfusion became a viable alternative.