Chinese University scientists may be on the brink of the next frontier in cancer treatment following their discovery of a mechanism that enables the recurrence of the disease after chemotherapy. Cancer treatment relies on aggressive chemotherapy to kill cancer cells, but the cancer can return and prove fatal. Using an idea developed by a doctoral student and his mentor at the university's biology department, the group of scientists said they had found an 'unexpected escape tactic that cancer cells could use to survive chemotherapy'. In today's issue of the British Journal of Cancer, the scientists report they treated human cervical, skin, liver, breast and prostate cancer cells with three chemicals that initiate cell suicide - a process called apoptosis - to see if cancer cells could survive after they had passed 'the point of no return for cell death'. Molecular immunologist Fung Ming-chiu said they had found cancer cells recovered once chemicals to induce cell suicide were removed, even after the cells had passed normal critical checkpoints. He and PhD candidate Hogan Tang Ho-lam have been discussing this new direction for years. Professor Fung said: 'This is the first time [it has been shown] that if the drug is removed before the cells die, then the cancer cells can recover. ... even if they undergo apoptosis or suicide, but before the nuclear fragmentation, if we remove the anti-cancer drugs then the cells can ... keep on proliferating. That is probably related to cancer recurrence.' Relapse is common: 40 per cent of breast cancer recurs and up to 70 per cent of liver cancer after chemotherapy. Before the research, no one had been able to explain the recurrence rates in breast and liver cancer after chemotherapy, Professor Fung said. Lesley Walker, cancer information director at the charity Cancer Research UK, said: 'This eye-opening discovery has created an entire map of new routes to explore in the search for new therapy targets. It is an intriguing advance.'