Cancer cells may evade chemotherapy by entering a dormant state, according to a study conducted by scientists at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City.

The dormant state is a type of active hibernation enabling the cancer cells to resist the stress caused by chemotherapy treatments that aim to destroy them, showed the study published in Cancer Discovery, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

The study was conducted in mouse models based on patients’ samples of acute myeloid leukemia tumors, while the findings were verified by looking at tumor samples collected through their treatment and relapse.

“Acute myeloid leukemia can be put into remission with chemotherapy, but it almost always comes back, and when it does it’s incurable,” said senior author of the study Dr. Ari M. Melnick, the Gebroe Family Professor of Hematology and Medical Oncology and a member of the Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medicine.

In recent years, cancer researchers’ one theory about not being able to get rid of all cancer cells through chemotherapy has been that not all cells within a tumor are the same at the genetic level.

Another theory suggests that some of the cells within a tumor have special properties that allow them to reform a new tumor after chemotherapy is given.

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