In a recent study, researchers find that certain types of breast tumors can send signals that freeze the growth of their own secondary cancers.
The team finds a previously unseen ‘ecosystem’ in advanced breast cancer, in which the primary breast tumor emits signals that halt the growth of secondary tumors elsewhere in the body.
The spread of cancer beyond the original tumor—known as metastasis—is the most deadly aspect of most cancers.
Once a breast cancer has spread to other parts of the body, treatments are far less effective and a patient’s prognosis worsens sharply.
In the study, the team aimed to find how to mimic the ‘freezing’ of secondary cancers, so that it is possible to influence all breast cancers to keep their secondary tumors in check.
The researchers found that in mice primary breast tumors could influence ‘breakaway cells’ that have left the primary tumor to establish new tumors throughout the body.
The primary tumor sends its message via the immune system, through an ‘inflammatory response’ provoked by the tumor.
Immune cells spread through the body, locating the sites where breakaway cells have settled in preparation for the launch of new secondary tumors.
Once the immune cells locate the breakaway cells, remarkably they are able to ‘freeze’ them—halting tumor growth.
Currently, there is indirect evidence that the same process may also be happening in people.
For example, the team found that in a group of 215 breast cancer patients at high risk for developing metastasis, patients with high levels of the same type of immune response had better overall survival.
The researchers are now devising how this discovery might be applicable in the clinic.
They hope to use the new information to find ways to suppress the spread of cancer in all breast tumors.
In addition, they hope to apply their findings beyond breast cancer, to determine if similar processes may be exploited to suppress spread in other tumor types.
The study is co-led by Australia’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research.
The study is published in Nature Cell Biology.
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Source: Nature Cell Biology.