The reason why breast cancer often spreads or metastasizes to the lung has been explained in new research led by Alison Allan, PhD, a scientist at Western University and the Lawson Health Research Institute.
Breast cancer is the number one diagnosed cancer and the number two cause of cancer-related deaths among women in North America. If detected early, traditional chemotherapy and radiation have a high success rate, but once the disease spreads beyond the breast, many conventional treatments fail. In particular, the lung is one of the most common and deadly sites of breast cancer metastasis and this has a significant impact on patient quality of life and survival.
Previous work by Allan's research team has shown that a specific type of breast cancer cell, the breast cancer stem cell (CSC), is responsible for metastasis in animal models, particularly to the lung. In this paper, published online in the journal Neoplasia, the researchers developed an innovative ex vivo (outside the living organism) model system that simulates different organ environments. They observed that breast CSCs have a particular propensity for migrating towards and growing in the lung, and they identified specific interactions between breast CSCs and lung-derived proteins that could be disrupted to reduce the metastatic behavior of breast cancer.
The research was funded by the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation- Ontario Region. Looking forward, the translation of this knowledge to the clinic could have important future implications for improved treatment of breast cancer. The results of this study will also lay the groundwork for future clinical studies aimed at investigating whether increased breast CSCs in the primary tumor may pre-dispose some patients to lung metastasis, and if so, whether directed monitoring (i.e. by imaging or ex vivo analysis) may be beneficial for early detection and successful treatment.