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"Cancer cells hibernate in lungs"

Healthy lung cells support the survival of breast cancer cells, allowing them to hibernate in the lung before forming secondary tumours.

The claim comes from new research from the Francis Crick Institute.

The findings could help the development of new treatments that interfere with this behaviour, reducing the number of secondary cancers.  

The study used a mouse model to show that, after cancer cells from a breast tumour arrive in the lungs, a signal sent out from the lung cells causes cancer cells to change shape and grow protrusions that latch onto the lung tissue. The lung cells then protect them within the lung tissue.

By using a treatment that interferes with the growth of these protrusions on the breast cancer cells, the researchers found that mice which received the treatment grew fewer secondary tumours than the control mice.

They then analysed the genes that are turned on in the hibernating cells.

This enabled them to find a key gene, sFRP2, that regulates the formation of cell protrusions and the survival of breast cancer cells in the lung.

Erik Sahai, co-lead author, said: “Cancer can survive, hibernating in different parts of the body, for many years.

“Showing how the microenvironment around the cancer cell can support its survival (in our case how the lung cells help the breast cancer cells) opens the door to potential new treatments which target this relationship.”

Image credit | Photolibrary

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