NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — As a mother of two, undergoing chemotherapy is not easy, but for Kate Conn the treatment was lifesaving.

“I was a stage 3 cancer, breast cancer, and I did eight treatments of chemotherapy,” she said.

Two years later Conn is now cancer free and running a non-profit organization that gives free wigs to cancer patients. However, she said she lives every day knowing that the cancer could come back.

“If it does come back, my biggest fear is gonna be the treatments that they are gonna give me, including future chemotherapy, will stop working or become resistant,” she said.

Dr. Peter Nelson told CBS 2’s Amy Dardashtian that tumor resistance to chemotherapy can develop over time, and is quite common.

Nelson and a group of Seattle-based researchers wanted to find out why. They recently concluded a five-year study.

“Most of that resistance was thought to come from the tumor cell itself, but in this study what we showed is that a part of this resistance comes from the neighboring cells around the tumor,” he explained.

The cells that neighbor a tumor are call fibroblasts. Their job is to help repair tissue. Researchers found that when exposed to a specific form of chemotherapy or radiation therapy the fibroblasts started producing a protein called “win 16” that caused cancer cells to grow.

“So if we knock down or suppress “win 16″ we got about a 30 percent improvement in the effectiveness of the chemotherapy,” Dr. Nelson explained.

Manhattan cancer specialist Janice Dutcher told CBS 2 that the findings could lead to new pathways to fighting tumor cells and treating cancer.

“They make us think about a different way of timing and dosing chemotherapy,” she said.

Development of an antibody that inhibits “win 16” production could be several years away.

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