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.tumor - the "primary site" - to other parts of the body, this is known as metastatic or secondary breast cancer. Most commonly, breast cancer cells spread to the bones, accounting for around 85% of all secondary breast cancers. In this latest study, recently published in the journal Nature, study co-leader Dr. Alison Gartland, of the University of Sheffield in the UK, and colleagues found that a protein called lysul oxidase (LOX) drives the spread of breast cancer cells to the bone. The team says finding a way to block the activity of LOX may lead to new ways to prevent this type of secondary cancer in patients with breast cancer.
LOX prepares bone for the arrival of cancer cells
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. "We show that these lesions subsequently provide a platform for circulating tumor cells to colonize and form bone metastases," the authors explain.
"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.Earlier this month, Medical News Today reported on a study published in the British Journal of Surgery, which suggests women with hereditary breast cancer are at no higher risk of poor treatment outcomes than breast cancer patients without a family history of the disease. Written by Honor Whiteman