Cancer starts when a cell in the body goes rogue, multiplying out of control and forming a tumour. As long as the cancer cells stay in one place in the body, it’s relatively simple to cure the disease through surgery. The real problems start when cancer cells break away from the original tumour. They hitch a ride to other parts of the body through the blood vessels, emerging to form secondary tumours in organs such as the liver, lungs and brain, as shown in this computer-generated illustration. Sticky molecules on the surface of cancer cells, known as integrins, are essential for enabling cancers to spread, sending signals between and inside cells. By figuring out how integrins work as cancer cells float through the bloodstream and emerge to settle in a new location, scientists are hoping to discover ways to stop cancer spreading or slow it down, before it’s too late.
Written by Kat Arney
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