Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center researchers in New York City have found out why some women suffer relapses years after beating breast cancer.
Leading oncologist Dr. Larry Norton has revealed that breast cancer cells have the unique ability to lie dormant for years, even after the original tumor has been removed.
In a novel study, the researchers have found a genetic switch, called Src, that triggers dormant breast cancer cells.
"It's just as a weed-bed overgrows and destroys a garden and then scatters its tiny seeds to invade neighbouring gardens.
"Our results should encourage cancer specialists to think about further study of Src inhibitor drugs that attack reservoirs of these 'wandering' latent cancer cells and prevent spread of the disease in breast cancer patients after the tumor has been removed," he added.
Dr. Helen George, Cancer Research UK's head of science information, said: "This research is important because it offers an explanation of why some breast cancers can spread and return.