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'Self-Seeding' of Cancer Cells May Explain Why Cancer Returns After Surgery

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Cancer progression is commonly thought of as a process involving the growth of a primary tumor followed by metastasis, in which cancer cells leave the primary tumor and spread to distant organs. A new study by researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center shows that circulating tumor cells –- the cancer cells that break away from a primary tumor and disseminate to other areas of the body -– can also return to and grow in their tumor of origin, a newly-discovered process called "self-seeding."

The findings of the study, published in the December 25 issue of the journal Cell, suggest that self-seeding can enhance tumor growth through the release of signals that promote angiogenesis, invasion and metastasis. Angiogenesis is a normal and vital process in human growth and development, as well as in wound healing. However, it is also one fundamental step in the transition of tumors from a dormant state to a malignant one.

"Our work not only provides evidence for the self-seeding phenomenon and reveals the mechanism of this process, but it also shows the possible role of self-seeding in tumor progression," said the study's first author, Mi-Young Kim, PhD, Research Fellow in the Cancer Biology and Genetics Program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering.

According to the research, which was conducted in mice, self-seeding involves two distinct functions: the ability of a tumor to attract its own circulating progeny and the ability of circulating tumor cells to re-infiltrate the tumor in response to this attraction. The investigators identified four genes that are responsible for executing these functions: IL-6 and IL-8, which attract the most aggressive segment of the circulating tumor cells population, and FSCN1 and MMP1, which mediate the infiltration of circulating tumor cells into a tumor.

The findings also show that circulating breast cancer cells that are capable of self-seeding a breast tumor have a similar gene expression pattern to breast cancer cells that are capable of spreading to the lungs, bones and brain, and therefore have an increased potential to metastasize to these organs.

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Expert HERWriter Guide Blogger

Great info, Lynette. It seems like we're seeing more and more evidence that's pointing to the growth of targeted drug therapies for cancer treatment. Thanks for bringing us this information. Pat

December 30, 2009 - 5:30pm
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