When a tumour starts to spread, or metastasise, the cancer cells often seek out certain new host tissues in preference to others. For example, breast cancer often spreads to bone, liver and lung. And while a tumour confined to the breast is unlikely to be fatal, once it has spread to other organs, which it does in approximately twenty percent of breast cancer patients, it can become life-threatening. Figuring out ways to stop metastasis, or to stop cancer growth once it has spread, is thus a key aim of current research. Scientists have now discovered a protein (white) produced by mesenchymal cells [connective tissue] (red) at breast cancer’s chosen metastatic sites that encourages the recruitment and growth of the cancer cells (green). Importantly, in mice deficient for this protein (called DDR2) breast cancer spread was significantly reduced, raising hope that blocking DDR2 might also curb metastasis in humans.
Written by Ruth Williams
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