Scientists find a new warning sign for breast cancer

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In a new study from Tel Aviv University, researchers found a new sign of metastatic breast cancer, laying the groundwork for preventive treatment that could save millions of lives.

Metastatic breast cancer, also known as Stage 4 breast cancer, occurs when cancer has spread, or “metastasized,” to other parts of the body.

Mortality from breast cancer is almost exclusively a result of tumor metastasis, and the lungs are one of the main metastatic sites. The five-year survival rate for women with metastatic breast cancer is estimated at 28%.

The researchers explain that metastases can appear several years after the initial cases are treated.

Today, methods used for follow-up screening identify metastases only when they are quite large–when the disease is at an advanced stage and unlikely to be cured.

Previously, the team had examined the black box—the time period between apparent recovery and the appearance of metastases to understand the metastatic process and to find ways of blocking it in early stages.

They had revealed that certain tissues, in organs where the metastases are set to arrive, “prepare the area” for reception and produce a hospitable environment for them, a long time before the appearance of the metastases themselves.

In the current study, the team searched for signs of these changes, which may be used in the future to identify the start of the process that predicts metastases.

They found these changes in the area known as “the micro-environment” of the tumor, and specifically in connective tissue known as fibroblasts which are found in the lungs among other places.

The researchers compared genes sequenced from healthy lungs, from lungs with micro-metastases (very small metastases which cannot be identified using existing clinical tools) and from lungs with large metastases, in a state of advanced disease.

They found the process that occurs in the micro-environment of the metastases.

The findings provide valuable understanding of how cancer cells grow, which can then be leveraged for detection by existing imaging methods and treated to prevent metastasis.

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The study is published in eLife. One author of the study is Prof. Neta Erez.

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