Researchers from the UK and Denmark have discovered a protein that encourages breast cancer to spread to the bone – a finding that could pave the way for treatments that halt progression of the disease.

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This picture shows bone cells damaged by LOX, a protein secreted by oxygen-deprived breast cancer tumors.
Image credit: Dr. Alison Gartland

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women after skin cancer. This year, it is estimated that more than 231,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in the US.



To reach their findings, Dr. Gartland and colleagues used mass spectrometry to analyze the protein secretion of tumors among patients with estrogen receptor negative (ER-) breast cancer.

They found that when breast cancer cells are deprived of oxygen, they release high levels of LOX. This protein makes holes in the bone of breast cancer patients as a way of preparing it for the arrival of cancer cells.


Once cancer spreads to the bone it is very difficult to treat. Our research has shed light on the way breast cancer cells prime the bone so it is ready for their arrival. If we were able to block this process and translate our work to the clinic, we could stop breast cancer in its tracks thereby extending patients’ lives.”

The researchers say their next step is to determine how LOX interacts with bone cells to drive cancer metastasis, which will bring us closer to finding drugs that stop the process. “This could also have implications for how we treat other bone diseases too,” adds Dr. Gartland.

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