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Chemotherapy resistance in the fight against cancer

In this struggle against cancer, chemotherapy resistance is a frontline battlefield. 
<a href="" target="_self">Avery Wang</a>

Avery Wang

July 12, 2022
At the age of 15, my brother Andrew was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer in children. He went through over 30 chemotherapy rounds in 21 months. During his almost two-year battle with cancer, he experienced chemotherapy resistance where his body began rejecting his chemo medicines. At that point, there were no therapies or medicines available for my brother to use. Andrew recently passed away near the end of 2021 at 17 years old.  

In the United States, almost every one in six deaths is caused by cancer, making it the second leading cause of death in the U.S. alone. In 2018, the United States had 1,708,921 cancer cases reported, and of those, 599,265 cases were deaths, which is a 35% death rate according to the CDC. In 2021, the U.S. had about 1.9 million cancer cases diagnosed with about 608,570 of the cases resulting in deaths. 

Cancer is a disease of malignant growth from uncontrollable cell division of abnormal cells in any part of the body. It affects nearly 39.5% of families in the United States. 

The American Cancer Society states that the most common types of cancer treatment include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, targeted therapy, hormone therapy, immunotherapy, and stem cell or bone marrow transplants. Of these treatments, chemotherapy is required in 57.7% of new cancer cases, according to the Cancerworld Archive

Chemotherapy is a medication or drug used to help destroy cancer cells, typically by stopping them from growing and dividing. Though it targets cancer cells, it still damages healthy cells and can make a patient very sick. However, when cancer fails to respond to chemotherapies, it may be due to chemotherapy resistance. 

Chemotherapy resistance occurs when cancer cells resist the effects of chemotherapy, rendering it useless in the battle against cancer. It has many causes, some being a mutation of the drug’s initial target and how it interacts with the tumor, cellular changes, or changes in the tumor’s environment in the human body. 

The most common case is when certain cancer cells are not killed by the chemotherapy; instead, they adapt to the drug and resist it. The resistant cells begin to multiply, creating even more resistance and the negative effects of chemotherapy worsen. During this process of chemotherapy resistance, patients may relapse or go through recurrence where cancer cells can grow and regrow other tumors. 

This resistance can occur just weeks after starting treatment, or even months or years after. This resistance in cells, no matter how small the size of the tumor, can cause cancer cells to have no response to chemo, taking away one of the most effective treatments in fighting cancer. 

My family and I, especially my brother Andrew, learned about chemotherapy resistance the hard way. President Joe Biden recently announced that he will reinvigorate his moonshot program to end cancer. In this struggle against cancer, chemotherapy resistance is a frontline battlefield.