Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Clues to why different cancers favour spread to particular organs and tissues

08 November 2019

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In most cases of cancer, the disease becomes more life threatening when cells leave the original tumour site and begin colonising other organs – a process called metastasis. But metastatic cancer cells don’t settle just anywhere. Depending on the original type of cancer, certain organs tend to be favoured over others. Breast cancer cells, for example, tend to migrate to brain, bones, liver and lung. Scientists are beginning to figure out the molecular codes responsible for such targeting, and have recently discovered proteins expressed in breast cancer cells that enable brain colonisation – the proteins facilitate the cells’ entry into the brain and shield them from immune attack. Pictured are such metastatic cells (green) growing in the brain having overcome the immune defences (red). By identifying these molecular access signals, researchers hope to develop strategies to block them and therefore halt the deadly spread.

Written by Ruth Williams

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