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Genes That Program Tumor Spreads Identified

Scientists say a genetic "signature" appears in the early stages

TUESDAY, Dec. 10, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- The presence of specific genes in some kinds of primary tumors appears to predict that the tumors will spread to other parts of the body.

New research just published on the Nature Genetics Web site shows this genetic "signature" is present in the early stages of the tumor, long before there is any evidence that cancer has spread to other body areas.

The spreading of cancer -- called metastasis -- is common, but what triggers it hasn't been well understood. Cancer cells have to go through a series of gene-controlled changes to become metastatic.

That includes developing the ability to grow while unattached to any tissue, being able to bore through vessel walls to reach the bloodstream or lymphatic system, and being able to develop a new blood supply to grow.

The traditional view is that a tumor becomes metastatic more or less by chance. However, this new study indicates that a variety of tumor types are genetically encoded to metastasize.

Scientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Whitehead Institute analyzed genetic profiles of primary tumors and cancers that metastasized from primary tumors. They identified a group of genes they believe program tumors -- including breast and prostate cancers -- to metastasize.

Using genetic tests to identify tumors likely to metastasize could help doctors provide better treatment for people with cancer.

More studies are being done to validate the significance of this group of genes.

More information

The National Cancer Institute has more information about metastatic cancer.

SOURCE: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, news release, Dec. 8, 2002
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