Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Stopping Cancer Without Killing It

Researchers Say It Might Be Possible to Halt Some Cancer Cells Without Killing Them
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 30, 2007 -- Cancer experts may have found a new way to curb cancer: halting cancer cells in their tracks.

That tactic is called senescence. In senescence, cells don't divide, which means a cancer could not grow.

Triggering senescence in certain cells appears to hamper the growth of some tumors, according to lab tests done on mice.

The tests were done by researchers at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, including Sandy Chang, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of molecular genetics.

Their study appears online in EMBO Reports, a publication of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO).

Cancer-Fighting Gene

Chang and colleagues focused on the p53 gene, a gene within cells that works to nip cancer in the bud.

The p53 gene springs into action within DNA-damaged cells. Such damage can happen as cells age but can also be triggered by cancer risk factors.

Normally, the p53 gene within a DNA-damaged cell orders the cell to die -- a sort of cell suicide -- or to become senescent.

But p53 gene mutations can make that process go awry, promoting cancer instead of suppressing it, Chang tells WebMD in an email interview.

In their study, Chang's team looked at mice with a p53 gene mutation that only allowed the p53 gene to order senescence, not apoptosis (or self-destruction).

That is, the mutated p53 gene could prevent DNA-damaged cells from dividing, but it couldn't make the cells die.

DNA Damage

The researchers damaged the mice's DNA by shortening the telomeres (the tips of the chromosomes) in some intestinal cells.

In response to that DNA damage, the mice's mutated p53 gene swung into action. Since it couldn't order DNA-damaged cells to die, it ordered them to become senescent.

The senescence helped stop tumor development in the intestinal cells, the study shows.

Chang says senescence ordered by the p53 gene is "extremely important" in suppressing tumor formation and is as important as apoptosis.

But in some cancers, senescence might not be enough to halt cancer, the researchers found.

When they exposed mice with the p53 mutation to substances that cause a type of skin cancer (squamous cell skin cancer), senescence alone couldn't stop the mice from developing the skin cancer.

Perhaps apoptosis is more important than senescence in fully suppressing some types of cancer, the researchers conclude.

Today on WebMD

Colorectal cancer cells
New! I AM Not Cancer Facebook Group
Lung cancer xray
See it in pictures, plus read the facts.
sauteed cherry tomatoes
Fight cancer one plate at a time.
Ovarian cancer illustration
Real Cancer Perspectives
Jennifer Goodman Linn self-portrait
what is your cancer risk
colorectal cancer treatment advances
breast cancer overview slideshow
prostate cancer overview
lung cancer overview slideshow
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
Actor Michael Douglas