Researchers from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre claim to have identified a cellular pathway that is involved in spread of lung cancer.
It is the same cellular pathway that has been shown to be involved with the spread of colorectal cancer, say the researchers.
The pathway enhances lung cancer's ability to infiltrate and colonize other organs without delay.
They found that the WNT cell-signalling pathway was the only one out of the six pathways tested that was hyperactive in lung tumors that went on to metastasise, and was normal in those that did not spread.
They also observed that WNT hyperactivity was associated with aggressive biological tumor characteristics and poor clinical outcome, suggesting that cancer metastasis was linked with poor survival.
"Mutations that activate the WNT pathway are a common cause of colon cancer, but lung tumors are initiated by mutations in other genes so we were surprised that a hyperactive WNT pathway would be responsible for metastasis in lung cancer," said the study's senior author Dr Joan Massague, Chair of the Cancer Biology and Genetics Program at MSKCC and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.
"Our findings suggest that using treatments that target the WNT pathway may help prevent lung cancer from repeatedly seeding itself throughout the vital organs of patients at risk for metastasis," she added.
The study has been published online in the journal Cell.