How do cancer cells start to spread? Study sheds light


Metastatic cancer is responsible for the vast majority of cancer deaths, but our limited understanding of how metastasis begins makes finding ways to stop it hugely challenging. A new study may provide some insight, however.

Researchers have found that a tumor's surrounding environment influences the spread of cancer cells.

Researchers from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) have discovered how the surrounding environment of a tumor can cause cancer cells to metastasize.

Put simply, metastatic cancer occurs when cancer cells break away from a primary tumor and move to other areas of the body — most commonly the bones, liver, and lungs.

Once cancer cells have metastasized, controlling them becomes much more difficult. While current treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy can help to slow the spread of cancer cells, they are not always successful.

It is estimated that around 90 percent of cancer-related deaths are a result of metastatic cancer, highlighting the need for more effective strategies to combat the disease.

But, as study leader Stephanie Fraley — a professor of bioengineering at UCSD — notes, "We are good at targeting tumor growth, but we do not know enough about metastasis."

The new research, however, has uncovered further information about what triggers metastatic cancer, a discovery that could lead to more successful treatments.

The researchers recently reported their findings in the journal Nature Communications.