A new study conducted by Australian researchers reveals that some breast cancer cells manage to avoid being attacked by the immune system by turning off a signal and thus are able to spread to bone.
Switching off the interferon immune signal lets the cancer cells secretly spread to secondary sites, most commonly the bones.
The discovery achieved by researchers from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Monash Institute of Medical Research could help stop breast cancer from spreading to the bones and becoming deadly, News.com.au reported.
"We have discovered a mask that breast cancer cells put on, allowing them to hide and spread to bone, thriving undetected," said Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre's Dr Belinda Parker.
Researchers hope that existing interferon therapies could be used to "unmask" the cancer cells.
Dr Parker said once the cells were detectable and open to attacks from the immune system, they could contain them to the breast and stop them forming secondary tumours.
There are already interferon treatments for hepatitis, skin cancer and HIV, but they have not been trailed in breast cancer patients.
"If we can stop the first spread to bone, then it is possible that we could prevent subsequent metastases to the brain, lung and liver," Dr Parker noted.
Prof Paul Hertzog, of Monash Institute of Medical Research, said interferon responses were critical in protecting people from infection.
"This discovery gives us the groundwork to develop and test new diagnostic and treatment strategies," he said.
The research, conducted in pre-clinical animal models, was published in Nature Medicine.