Protein identified which helps cancer spread

20 January 2016 09:19

The protein helps aggressive tumours spread

The protein helps aggressive tumours spread

Researchers have identified a protein which spreads cancer around the body using non-cancerous cells.

The cells are recruited to invade tissues neighbouring a tumour by the Wnt7a protein, eventually leading it into the bloodstream.

Previous studies have shown the cells, called fibroblasts, help spread cancer, yet it was unclear why they do this.

Greater risk

Professor Clare Isacke and her colleagues claim to have shed some light on the matter.

The study, which analysed almost 900 breast cancer samples, shows that women whose breast cancers secrete a greater amount of Wnt7a are at a greater risk of developing secondary disease and have a lower chance of survival.

Once a tumour receives what the scientists describe as a "rallying call" from the protein, the fibroblasts help it enter nearby tissue, then the bloodstream and finally distant tissue.

Professor Isacke says action is needed to stop tumours recruiting and activating non-cancer cells by secreting Wnt7a.

She claims the communication between tumours and the cells around them could also be the building block for future treatment.


Living with breast cancer can affect a person's life in a number of different ways, depending on what stage it is at and what treatment the person is having.

But a diagnosis does not mean life has to stop. Women with breast cancer can still enjoy the finer things in life, like holidaying abroad.

Cancer travel insurance covers the cost of medical expenses, including lost medication.

Further study

It is hoped that spotting high levels of Wnt7a could become a means of determining which patients are likely to suffer from more aggressive breast cancers.

Researchers also found they could lower the chances of cancer spreading into the lung by restricting secretion of the protein in aggressive tumours, an area which they say requires further study.

Effective anti-cancer strategies to target the cross-talk between cancer cells and normal cells are most likely to be the next step.

Nature Communications published the findings.

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