What Is Angiogenesis and How Does It Relate to Cancer?
Angiogenesis is the medical name for the natural process of blood-vessel creation. Repairing and maintaining the circulatory system is critical to the health of cells throughout the body. Unfortunately, cancer cells have developed a means of tapping into this process, essentially tricking the body into supplying oxygen and food energy to cancer cells. Cancer cells release chemicals that encourage the growth of blood vessels, which then feed these cells in the same fashion that they feed normal, non-cancerous tissues.
Medical researchers are fighting back by developing angiogenesis inhibitors, or treatments to block cancer’s ability to spur blood-vessel growth. To learn more about these and other cutting-edge cancer treatments, see the oncology providers at Baptist Health.
What Are Angiogenesis Inhibitors?
Endothelial cells, which form the inner walls of blood vessels, are responsible for growing the circulatory system. Cancer cells release a chemical called vascular endothelial growth factor, or VEGF, which stimulates endothelial cells to undertake the vessel-building process in the tumor’s vicinity, thereby ensuring it a pipeline of blood-supplied nutrients. What’s more, cancer cells can also cause normal tissues to produce VEGF, ratcheting up still further the chemical stimulation of endothelial cells.
Angiogenesis inhibitors are medications that interfere with cancer’s ability to generate new blood-vessel construction. They work in two primary ways. Some anti-angiogenic drugs attach themselves to VEGF molecules, preventing them from contacting endothelial cells and initiating the vessel-creation process. Others halt a later stage in this same process, by blocking communication between endothelial cells and other parts of the blood vessel. This would be similar to preventing a foreman from communicating with a construction crew, so the latter couldn’t proceed with a job.
In addition to anti-angiogenic medications, there are certain herbs, foods, and extracts that also slow the vessel-building process. Included among the herbs and extracts are ginger, grape-seed extract, curcumin, Chinese wormwood, European mistletoe, Panax ginseng, and Gingko biloba. Foods with anti-angiogenic qualities include green tea, red grapes, artichokes, kale, and other leafy green vegetables.
What Is the Goal of Angiogenesis Inhibitors?
Unlike some better known cancer treatments, angiogenesis inhibitors are not designed the kill malignancies. Instead, they’re meant to cut off the tumor’s blood supply, keeping it isolated and small, and ultimately robbing it of opportunities to grow and spread. Anti-angiogenic drugs are typically used in combination with other therapies, such as radiation and chemo, that have the goal of destroying cancerous cells.
What Can I Expect While Taking Angiogenesis Inhibitors?
Angiogenesis inhibitors come in both pill and liquid forms. The liquid form is delivered intravenously at a hospital or medical facility, sometimes in conjunction with an allied treatment, such chemotherapy. The duration of treatment often matches that of other cancer therapies, partly to enhance their mutual effect, but also to limit the potential severity of any side effects.
What Are the Side Effects of Angiogenesis Inhibitors?
Because of the circulatory system’s importance to health, medications which interfere with angiogenesis can lead to a number of side effects. Common ones include:
- Weakness and fatigue
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Slow-healing cuts or wounds
- Stomach upset and diarrhea
- Soreness and blisters on hands and feet
Less common, but more serious, side effects are:
- Blood clots
- Intestinal holes (bowel perforations)
- Substantial bleeding
- Heart attacks
- Heart failure
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