Researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Whitehead Institute have discovered a pattern of genetic activity in several types of primary tumors that appears to predict the likelihood that they will spread, or metastasize, to other parts of the body. If larger studies support these findings, this early indicator of life-threatening cancer spread might lead to a clinical test that would help determine appropriate treatment.
The study will be published by Nature Genetics on its web site on Dec. 9.
Most cancer deaths are caused not by the original or primary tumor but by the metastasizing of tumor cells to other organs. Until now, cancer specialists have viewed the development of metastasis as an essentially random and unpredictable event.
But that notion is thrown into question with the new finding of a genetic "signature" – a certain pattern of activity in a handful of genes – in some solid tumors that appears to preordain them to spreading dangerously. This signature is present in the early stages of the cancer, well before there is any evidence of metastasis, say the researchers.
Bill Schaller | Nature Genetics
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