Cancer cells simulate diabetes - new study
Proliferating cancer cells actively cause the body to starve by simulating an effect of diabetes, a study suggests.
The research, conducted on fruit flies, points towards potential new treatments for cachexia - the progressive wasting that accompanies advanced cancers.
Around a fifth of cancer deaths are due to cachexia, which can render patients too weak to withstand chemotherapy and radiotherapy and increase their susceptibility to side effects.
Typically raising food intake does little to stem the loss of muscle and fat.
Scientists in the US now believe tumour cells actively secrete proteins that inhibit insulin, the hormone responsible for energy-giving glucose being absorbed into the body tissues.
In this way more of the sugar is made available to satisfy the cancer's enormous appetite for glucose.
People with diabetes either lack insulin or fail to respond to it, so their tissues are also prevented from absorbing glucose.
Researcher Dr Young Kwon, from Harvard Medical School in the US, said: "The findings suggest the proliferating tumour cells consume a lion's share of glucose for energy, while the rest of the body starves."
Clues to the process emerged from two studies of cachexia in fruit flies with cancer. Tumours in the insects secreted a molecule called ImpL2 that triggered the loss of fat and muscle tissue, replicating cancer-induced wasting in humans.