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Friday 21st October 2016

Cancer spread happens early

2nd September 2008

Researchers in the United States have discovered that cancer may spread to other parts of the body long before new tumours appear.


Cancer may be carried to new sites by apparently normal cells early in the progression of the disease, to lie dormant until key genes are activated.

Experts writing in the journal Science said the findings could explain why some breast cancers lead to new tumours long after the disease is treated.

Most cancer deaths result from secondary, or metastatic, cancers which have spread from the original tumour site.

UK experts said the results were important, but that further research was needed to understand exactly how cancer spreads.

Previously cancer was thought to spread only in the more advanced stages of the disease, with cancer cells staying in place until a series of genetic alterations occurred to make them more aggressive.

In order to start a new tumour, cancer cells must survive the journey through the circulatory system and its immune system defences.

Researchers at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Center in New York injected mice with normal breast tissue cells which had been manipulated so the scientists could "switch on" cancer genes, also known as oncogenes.

The cells were found to be capable of travelling in the bloodstream to the lungs and surviving there for up to 16 weeks without expressing any oncogenes. It wasn't until the oncogenes were turned on that the cells began growing aggressively in the lungs.

The research could pave the way for further studies into the way in which cancer metastasises, allowing experts to work out ways to destroy the cells responsible for spreading the disease.

Lead researcher Katrina Podsypanina said the study had refined the team's conception of cancer progression, with the realisation that that metastatic disease can arise from untransformed mammary cells in the circulation.

Cancer Research UK's senior science information officer Liz Baker said it was essential to learn more about metastasis was essential, as the disease was so hard to treat once it had spread.


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