Neurobiology of Cancer

neurobiology cancer
Neurobiology – Cancer

In a Personal View article, published in The Lancet Oncology Katarina Ondicova and Boris Mravec address a timely topic of growing interest, the role of the nervous system or the neurobiology of cancer etiopathogenesis.

Circa 200 A.D. Galen, the Greek physician and philosopher was perhaps the first to link ‘cancer’ with the person’s emotional and physiologic processes – he noted that “melancholic women were more prone to develop ‘swellings’ of the breasts than were sanguine women”.

In 1701, the British physician Gendron emphasized the effect of “disasters of life as occasion much trouble and grief” in the causation of cancer, and eighty years later, Burrows attributed the disease to “the uneasy passions of the mind with which the patient is strongly affected for a long time.” Approximately 100 years ago, Snow’s review of over 250 patients at the London Cancer Hospital concluded that “the loss of a near relative was an important factor in the development of cancer of the breast and uterus.”

More recent research indicates that the involvement of the nervous system in cancer etiopathogenesis is supported by several observations: tumor tissue is innervated, neurotransmitters affect tumor growth and development of metastases, and altered activity of the nervous system influences tumor cell proliferation.

In the The Lancet Oncology article the authors argue that the neurobiological view of the etiopathogenesis of cancer suggests that the humoral and neural pathways convey information from tumor tissues to the brain, and that the brain then modulates primary tumor and metastatic growth through neuroendocrine-immune systems.

As per Ondicova and Mravec, based on the neurobiological view, cancer can be seen as a process that overcomes not only the protective mechanisms of the immune system, but also the protective influences of the nervous system.

The authors discuss the application of a neurobiological view of cancer etiopathogenesis for development of new cancer treatments, better understanding of the beneficial effects of currently used approaches, and development of new diagnostic tools to detect cancer.

Source: Lancet Oncol, 2010 Jun; 11(6):596-601. doi: 10.1016/S1470-2045(09)70337-7.
Read more: The Lancet Oncology

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Cover Image: A dividing breast cancer cell. Credit: National Cancer Institute/Univ. of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute