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Elevated Levels of Phosphorus Linked to Growth of Cancers

Tuesday, July 21, 2009 at 05:16 PM EDT

A new study concludes that elevated levels of phosphorus are necessary for adequate growth of some types of cancers. This rise in phosphorus, the team hypothesizes, is due to heightened requirements of protein synthesis needed during accelerated cell growth.

The findings, which pertain to lung and colon cancer, are important because they give researchers a new avenue for stopping the growth and metastasis of cancer. Ostensibly, drugs and other treatment measures that limit phosphorus production would result in decelerated growth rates and improved survival rates.

In the study, researchers examined malignant and healthy tissue from 121 cancer patients. The patients had previously been diagnosed with one of four cancers – lung, liver, kidney or colon. Though all types of tumors showed elevated levels of phosphorus, only the samples taken from the lung or colon were statistically significant. As such, it is believed that phosphorus-reduction treatment methods would not be effective on liver or kidney cancer.

The team hypothesizes that the reason for variations in phosphorus levels depends on the local environment of each organ. Specifically, increased cell division rates may be accommodated by one of two processes – selecting for neoplastic cells bearing mutations or selecting for reduced mortality rate. Those tumors that select for neoplastic cells bearing mutations (lung and colon) are the ones that should be targeted for treatments targeted at phosphorus reduction.

The study was the result of a joint partnership between researchers at Arizona State University, University of Kansas Medical Center and Scottsdale Community College.