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Research Shows Soy Isoflavones Could Enhance Mesothelioma Treatment

New research from the Department of Radiation Oncology at Wayne State University's School of Medicine and the Karmanos Cancer Institute points to soy isoflavones in the hope for enhancing the effectiveness of mesothelioma treatments.  The study results published in the April 2011 issue of the Journal of Thoracic Oncology by Gilda Hillman, Ph.D., found that soy isoflavones did indeed increase the effect of radiation therapy on cancers cells.                                    

Researchers under Doctor Hillman found that soy isoflavones (a non-toxic chemical component of the soy bean) block cancer cells’ DNA repair mechanisms, effectively making it impossible for those damaged cells to rebuild after being hit with a blast of radiation.  In addition, the isoflavones acted as a shield against the radiation for healthy tissue.

While the study focused on non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), scientists hope that the information gathered can help them treat other forms of cancer including mesothelioma.  Mesothelioma is a type of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos fibers.  While mesothelioma tumors can occur in various regions of the body including the digestive tract and abdominal wall, one of the most common is the lungs and the tissues surrounding the lungs.  That’s because airborne asbestos fibers are microscopic and easily inhaled but are extremely difficult or impossible to expel.  These fibers enter the lungs during respiration and imbed themselves in the soft tissue, eventually forming cancerous tumors around them.

Previous research surrounding pure genistein (one type of soy isoflavone) led the Wayne State scientist to postulate that a combined serum of multiple soy isoflavones would drastically enhance the effects of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) tyrosine kinase inhibitors.  EGFR is a protein which aids in cell division.  Data collected during experiments partially funded by the American Institute for Cancer Research confirmed this assumption and found that the effect, when combined with radiation therapy, was devastating to tumor growth.

Doctor Gillman said, “These natural soy isoflavones can sensitize cancer cells to the effects of radiotherapy by inhibiting the survival mechanisms.”  She went on to explain that the soy isoflavones are antioxidants and act to “protect normal tissues against unintended damage from the radiotherapy.”

While researchers are hopeful that this new data will lead improvements to mesothelioma treatment, they are cautious not to become overly optimistic.  Mesothelioma tumors are often located in close proximity to vital organs and radiation therapy can be dangerous, damaging the organ and healthy tissue surrounding the tumor.  However, some have suggested combining this new soy therapy with proton beam radiotherapy, a more delicate and accurate form of radiation therapy.