Investigating what keeps metastatic breast cancer in check

At the time of initial diagnosis, most patients with breast cancer show no signs that their cancer has spread elsewhere in the body. Yet, up to 30 percent of patients will ultimately experience metastasis, with breast cancer taking root and growing at other sites in the body, sometimes months, years or even decades later. Sandra McAllister, PhD, of the Division of Hematology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and her colleagues are working to understand what happens when cancer cells escape from the primary tumor, and what, if anything, can be done to intervene before cancer recurs. In a paper published online in Nature Cell Biology on Aug. 27, McAllister and colleagues reveal an unlikely protector against metastatic growth: inflammation.

“Our findings flip the current thinking on its head,” said McAllister, co-senior author of the study. “Many people study primary tumors and the assumption has been that metastases grow the same way. But our work suggests that, while inflammation can help tumor cells escape and land elsewhere in the body, if inflammation is there when they land, it keeps the cells in check. When inflammation is suppressed, the cells grow out.”

McAllister and lead author Zafira Castano, PhD, an instructor


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