Breast cancer is challenging to defeat, primarily because cancerous cells migrate to other tissues to form secondary tumours, or metastases. In the most common form of breast cancer, these cells can remain dormant in the bone marrow for long periods of time, which vary between patients, making it difficult to anticipate when problems might occur. The key to predicting metastasis may lie with a protein known as MSK1 (shown in green, inside the blue nuclei of cancer cells). Among breast cancer patients, active metastases arise earlier when their cells express low levels of MSK1, while high levels are associated with later relapses, suggesting that MSK1 promotes dormancy. By modulating the way DNA is packaged, it maintains the expression of regulatory genes associated with a reduced capacity for metastasis. As a diagnostic tool, examining the levels of MSK1 could help identify patients most at risk, to treat them more effectively.
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