New discovery could provide tool to detect whether a cancer will develop and spread

July 19, 2004

When a physician discovers cancer in a patient, the first thing the doctor wants to know is whether that cancer has spread, or "metastasized." This metastasis signifies that the patient has entered a new and potentially lethal phase of the disease. A new study opens up the possibility of detecting whether a tumor will spread long before a patient ever reaches that dangerous phase.

Scientists at the Pacific Northwest Research Institute in Seattle have found evidence for a DNA structure characteristic of metastasis in normal tissues from prostates with metastazing tumors. The finding suggests that the potential for metastasis can be detected early in apparently normal tissues. The study, which appears online this week, will be published in the August 3rd issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This discovery challenges current thinking about how a cancer develops and spreads. Rare or "rogue" cells may not be breaking away from the tumor and starting new tumors elsewhere, as previously thought. It now appears that the DNA structure for metastasis is actually hardwired into seemingly normal cells that are destined to become metastatic tumor cells.

"Our research is still at an early stage and there is much more to be done, but our initial findings are quite exciting indeed," said Dr. Donald Malins, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and lead author of the study. "Early detection is one of the most important tools we have against cancer. To be able to find evidence for a metastasizing tumor even before it reaches that point, well, that would be incredibly valuable—a very powerful new weapon."
-end-


Pacific Northwest Diabetes Research Institute

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