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Scientific breakthrough: New research discover why cancer spreads through the body

A team of scientists discovered that metastasis is the "regeneration of the wrong tissue in the wrong place".

Why cancer spreads through the body.
why cancer spreads through the body

Cancer cells and their spread in the body (metastasis) are linked to wound healing. This was revealed by a study conducted by scientists at the Sloan Kettering Institute in New York, USA.

The ability of cancer cells to metastasize to other organs depends on their ability to co-opt natural wound healing pathways. 

In other words, the spread of cancer in the body is literally the result of wound healing gone wrong.

"We now understand metastasis as the regeneration of the wrong tissue - the tumor - in the wrong place, the distant vital organs. 

This is not just a metaphor, it is literally true in molecular and physiological terms," explained the lead author of the research, Joan Massagué, in an interview with the journal Nature.

Tumour tissues and wounds

The scientists observed that tumor tissues that produce a molecule called L1CAM were more recurrent in areas where an epithelial layer was broken, i.e. a wound.

Normal healthy tissues do not usually produce L1CAM, but advanced cancers do.

Using a model of colitis in mice, the researchers confirmed that L1CAM is necessary for normal wound repair.

Although metastasis is deadly, the scientists concluded that it is not a process that cancer cells can easily perform, as only a small percentage of cancer cells can detach from a tumor and successfully migrate to spread in the body.

Once cancer cells learn to survive stress in a foreign environment, it is very difficult to get rid of them. These cells are a completely different entity from the tumor they started in, said study co-author Karuna Ganesh.

On the road to a new treatment

The study was also able to verify that the process of metastasis is not initiated by genetic mutations that allow primary tumor cells to migrate to other organs as previously believed.

This discovery opens a path for the creation of a possible treatment to stop or control the metastasis. This disastrous process within the body has been responsible for 90% of the deaths that have occurred from cancer.

Previously there were indications that cancers could use wound healing pathways to support their growth. 

In the 1980s, researcher Harold Dvorak called tumors "wounds that do not heal".

But the new findings present the first detailed picture of how this process works at the level of cells and molecules.