BOSTON--Wanderlust in a person can be admirable or romantic. In a cancerous tumor, it may be lethal.
Most deaths from cancer result from tumor cells that have strayed from their original location to insinuate their way into distant tissues. With few exceptions, however, doctors have little way of determining whether a newly formed tumor is more likely to remain idle or send invader cells to other parts of the body.
In a study published in the July 12 issue of the journal Cancer Cell, scientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute demonstrate that it's possible early in a tumor's growth to identify cancer genes that endow the tumor with the ability to metastasize. Testing the technique in melanoma skin cancer, they found six abnormal genes that are both cancer-causing and metastasis-promoting. One of those genes, ACP5, can be used to predict whether human melanoma tumors are likely to spread.
"Early-stage melanomas are often cured by surgical removal, but in about 10 percent of patients who undergo surgery and are considered cancer-free, the disease recurs in metastatic form and becomes fatal," says the paper's senior author, Lynda Chin, MD, of Dana-Farber. "The goal of this study was to see if we could find genetic events within the tumor cells that indicate which patients are at high risk for metastasis."
The discovery of six genes capable of conferring metastatic ability on melanoma cells "is an important step toward developing prognostic tests for identifying early-stage tumors that are likely to spread and can be treated accordingly," adds Chin.
To become metastatic and live in foreign regions of the body, tumor cells need to acquire a unique set of survival skills: they must break free of their normal moorings, enter the bloodstream or lymph system, exit through blood or lymphatic vessels, trespass on distant tissue, grow, multiply, and attract a blood supply. Each of these abilities comes courtesy of
|Contact: Bill Schaller|
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute