New Understanding of Cancer and Which Cells are Important

“New Understanding of Cancer and Which Cells are Important.” By Susan Love, Act with Love Blog.

Two new studies are causing researchers to rethink their assumptions about cancer and metastases, turning some previous theories on their heads. Dr. Susan Love explains the science and its implications.

In her blog, Dr. Susan Love first points out that one of the shifts in cancer and especially breast cancer treatments in the past ten years has been the recognition that there is more than one kind of breast cancer. When a person is found to have a particular breast cancer subtype, that means it was predominant on the biopsy. In other words, breast cancers have many different types of cells and mutations even within the same subtype.

Two new studies are focused on understanding the heterogeneity of breast cancer. A group from MD Anderson used a new technique to look at individual cells and map the genomes of two kinds of breast cancer. They found large scale rearrangements of genes that seemed to occur early, followed by a stable growth of cells to form a tumor. Tumors that have a variety of mutated cells like this means that “knocking down one type with treatment may allow a second group to rise up and metastasize.”

Another study out of Harvard showed how such mixtures of mutated cell types play out in tumors. The researchers confirmed that all tumors have more than one type of mutated cell and that some types of cells may be fast growing, others slow. This is a major finding. Love says, “We have always assumed that the fast growing cells were the “bad ones,” more likely to metastasize and kill you.  Polyak’s team showed that this may not always be the case. They found that the fast growing cells often outgrow their local supply of nutrients and metabolic support and die off. The cells that are more likely to metastasize turn out to be the slower growing cells that are able to utilize their local environment to support their growth; i.e., increase the blood supply and nutrients, and disable the immune system.”

Love concludes that these results suggest that it is important to biopsy metastases when possible to see whether they are the same as the primary tumor.

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