Scientists Uncover New Key to Preventing Secondary Cancers in Breast Cancer Patients

First Posted: May 29, 2015 08:37 AM EDT

Scientists may have uncovered a key to preventing secondary cancers in breast cancer patients. They've found an enzyme that enhances the spread of the disease and that there's an existing class of drugs for osteoporosis that could stop the spread.

Secondary breast cancer, known as metastatic breast cancer, is the main cause of the 12,000 deaths which occur from breast cancer in the UK every year. The most common site for the disease to spread is the bone, which occurs in about 85 percent of secondary breast cancer patients.

In this latest study, the researchers found that the enzyme LysYI Oxidase (LOX) released from the primary tumor causes holes in bone and prepares the bone for the future arrival of cancer cells. These findings suggest that identifying LOX in estrogen receptor negative (ER negative) breast cancer patients early, could allow doctors to block the enzyme's activity, preventing bone damage and the spread of tumor cells to the bone (metastasis), halting the progression of the disease.

"We are really excited about our results that show breast cancer tumors send out signals to destroy the bone before cancer cells get there in order to prepare the bone for the cancer cells' arrival," said Alison Gartland, one of the researchers, in a news release. "The next step is to find out exactly how the tumor secreted LOX interacts with bone cells to be able to develop new drugs to stop the formation of the bone lesions and cancer metastasis. This could also have implications for how we treat other bone diseases too."

The findings may reveal a new way to help halt the spread of metastatic breast cancer. That said, further studies need to be conducted in order to better understand the role that the protein LOX is playing.

The findings are published in the journal Nature.

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