Breast cancer medicines may force some cancer cells into ‘sleeper mode’, allowing them to potentially come back to life years after initial treatment.
These are the early-stage findings from scientists at Imperial College London, who studied human breast cancer cells in the laboratory.
If we can unlock the secrets of these dormant cells, we may be able to find a way of preventing cancer coming back Dr Luca MagnaniStudy author
The team, who studied a group of breast cancer drugs called hormone treatments, say their research opens avenues for finding ways of keeping the cancer cells dormant for longer, or even potentially finding a way of awakening the cells so they can then be killed by the treatment.
Dr Luca Magnani, lead author of the study from Imperial’s Department of Surgery and Cancer said: “For a long time scientists have debated whether hormone therapies – which are a very effective treatment and save millions of lives – work by killing breast cancer cells or whether the drugs flip them into a dormant ‘sleeper’ state.
“This is an important question as hormone treatments are used on the majority of breast cancers. Our findings suggest the drugs may actually kill some cells and switch others into this sleeper state. If we can unlock the secrets of these dormant cells, we may be able to find a way of preventing cancer coming back, either by holding the cells in permanent sleep mode, or be waking them up and killing them.”
Preventing cancer relapse
In the study, published in the journal Nature Communications and funded by Cancer Research UK and the NIHR Imperial Biomedical Research Centre, the team studied around 50,000 human breast cancer single cells in the lab, and found that treating them with hormone treatment exposed a small proportion of them as being in a dormant state.
The team say the ‘sleeper cells’ may also provide clues as to why some breast cancer cells become resistant to treatment, causing a patient’s drugs to stop working, and their cancer to return.
Hormone therapies are used to treat a type of breast cancer called oestrogen-receptor positive. These make up over 70 per cent of all breast cancers, and are fuelled by the hormone oestrogen.
These cancers are usually treated with surgery to remove the tumour, followed by a course of targeted hormone therapy – usually either aromatase inhibitors or tamoxifen, which target oestrogen receptors.
However, around 30 per cent of breast cancer patients taking hormone therapies see their cancer eventually return – sometimes as long as 20 years after treatment. This returning cancer is usually metastatic, meaning it has spread around the body, and the tumours are often now resistant to medication.
Sleeper cells move around the body
Previous work by the same team has investigated why breast cancer cells become resistant to hormone treatment, with findings suggesting cells can make their own ‘fuel’, allowing them to avoid being ‘starved’ by cancer treatment.
Our experiments suggest these sleeper cells are more likely to travel around the body Dr Sung Pil Hong Study author
This new research provides another piece in the puzzle, explained Dr Iros Barozzi, co-author of the study, also from the Department of Surgery and Cancer: ‘These sleeper cells seem to be an intermediate stage to the cells becoming resistant to the cancer drugs. The findings also suggest the drugs actually trigger the cancer cells to enter this sleeper state.”
The research also revealed cells in this dormant sleeper state were more likely to spread around the body, explained Dr Sung Pil Hong, study co-author from Imperial: “Our experiments suggest these sleeper cells are more likely to travel around the body. They could then ‘awaken’ once in other organs of the body, and cause secondary cancers. However, we still don’t know how these cells switch themselves into sleep mode – and what would cause them to wake up. These are questions that need to be addressed with further research.”
The team added that hormone therapies remain one of the most effective treatments against breast cancer, and that further patient research will explore whether taking hormone therapies for longer after initial cancer treatment could prevent cancer cells from waking from their sleeping state.
Dr Rachel Shaw from Cancer Research UK, said: “Although treatments for breast cancer are usually successful, cancer returns for some women, often bringing with it a poorer prognosis. Figuring out why breast cancer sometimes comes back is essential to help us develop better treatments and prevent this from happening. This study highlights a key route researchers can now explore to tackle ‘sleeping’ cancer cells that can wake up years after treatment, which could potentially save the lives of many more women with the disease.”
The Latest on: Breast cancer
via Google News
The Latest on: Breast cancer
- Linda Nolan reveals she was suicidal after husband Brian died from cancer just a year after own diagnosison April 18, 2021 at 12:46 am
LINDA Nolan revealed she was suicidal when her late husband Brian Hudson died of cancer in 2007. The tragic loss took a huge toll on Linda’s mental health and came just a year after she was ...
- Super-fit conference coordinator, 31, reveals the shocking moment she was told she had breast cancer - after noticing a telltale symptom while lying in bedon April 17, 2021 at 8:23 pm
A healthy Australian who was looking forward to starting a family has had her world turned upside down after being diagnosed with triple-positive breast cancer on August 31, 2020.
- Phenotypic discordance between primary and metastatic breast cancer in the large-scale real-life multicenter French ESME cohorton April 16, 2021 at 12:42 pm
Breast cancer (BC) is the most prevalent malignancy, and metastatic breast cancer (MBC) the leading cause of cancer mortality among women in Western countries 1. Around 5% of women diagnosed with ...
- Olympian April Ross Draws on Late Mom’s 'Bravery' amid Breast Cancer While on Volleyball Courton April 16, 2021 at 12:08 pm
"I remember how much determination she showed us and I really find inspiration in that," April Ross tells PEOPLE of her late mother Margie, who had breast cancer ...
- Can Smoking Cause Breast Cancer?on April 16, 2021 at 12:06 am
While the role of smoking in causing breast cancer is not totally clear, smoking is harmful for many reasons. We break down the current research on smoking and breast cancer, other risk factors, and ...
- Breast cancer treatment can be safely reduced in women over the age of 70on April 15, 2021 at 10:23 pm
Oncologists faced with treating older women with breast cancer often must decide if the treatment may be more detrimental than the cancer.
- UPMC Study: Not All Breast Cancer Should Be Treatedon April 15, 2021 at 5:15 pm
The lead author behind a new UPMC Hillman study that says not all breast cancer should be treated has more on the findings.
- New research shows breast cancer treatment in patients over age 70 can be safely reducedon April 15, 2021 at 9:43 am
Oncologists faced with treating older women with breast cancer often must decide if the treatment may be more detrimental than the cancer. A study published today in JAMA Network Open by researchers ...
- Biologists discover super-enhancers that switch on breast cancer geneson April 15, 2021 at 8:59 am
Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is an aggressive type of breast cancer with a high fatality rate. Currently, chemotherapy is the major treatment option, but the clinical result is unsatisfactory.
- Obesity-related proteins score as a potential marker of breast cancer riskon April 15, 2021 at 3:44 am
There is strong evidence to suggest that obesity-related proteins play a key role in pathways that are related to breast cancer. In this study, we aimed to establish a robust obesity-related protein ...
via Bing News