Tumour trigger ‘could stop killer breast cancer’

The majority of breast cancer deaths occur when the disease spreads to other organs. Picture: Getty
The majority of breast cancer deaths occur when the disease spreads to other organs. Picture: Getty
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New therapies to stop the deadly progression of breast cancer in its tracks could stem from a fresh study into the disease, researchers have revealed.

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh said they had discovered a “trigger” allowing breast cancer cells to spread to the lungs.

It will be interesting to see if it translates into treating humans

James Jopling, charity director

They found blocking signals in mice with breast cancer “greatly reduces” the number of secondary tumours in the lungs.

The researchers hope their findings may one day translate into new treatments to stop the progression of breast cancer within the human body.

The majority of deaths from breast cancer are said to be caused by the tumour spreading to other parts of the body, with the lungs often among the first organs to be affected.

Researchers at the university’s MRC Centre for Reproductive Health investigated the role immune cells called macrophages play in helping cells from the original tumour to spread.

Their previous research has shown breast cancer cells need the support of macrophages to invade the lungs and establish secondary tumours.

The team’s latest research found macrophages require signalling molecules called chemokines to communicate with breast cancer cells.

But when these signals were blocked in mice, the number of secondary tumours in the lungs was reduced by up to two-thirds.

In addition, blocking the signals helped to stop the cancer cells getting into the lungs from the bloodstream, and hindered those that did get into the lungs from establishing themselves and forming new tumours. Professor Jeffrey Pollard, centre director, said: “Our findings open the door to the development of treatments that target the tumour microenvironment, which may stop the deadly progression of breast cancer in its tracks.”

James Jopling, Scotland director for Breast Cancer Campaign and Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: “Although only studied in mice, it’s exciting to learn knocking out communication between these cells can reduce the chance of a secondary tumour developing in the lungs.

“It could highlight a new avenue for research into treatments to stop the development of secondary breast cancer. It will be interesting to see if this work translates into a useful way to treat breast cancer in humans.”

The study, published by the Journal of Experimental Medicine, is funded by the US department of defence, National Institutes of Health, Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust.