Breast cancer, Hibernating' Cells

New Discovery In Breast Cancer Treatment Kills ‘Hibernating’ Cells

A potential new breakthrough for breast cancer treatment involves the targeting and eliminating of dormant tumor cells.

In a new breakthrough in breast cancer treatment, scientists discovered they can potentially locate and kill “hibernating” tumor cells. Their findings were recently published in the journal Cancer Discovery.

Researchers at the Institute of Cancer Research in London were studying why oestrogen receptor positive (ER+) cancer can relapse, and found that breast cancer cells were able to lie dormant for decades. However, upon the cells “awakening,” they can form tumors, according to the Daily Mail.

This new revelation can lead to preventative tactics to identify these cells even while they’re “sleeping.” Eliminating the cells during that stage will lessen the need for long-term hormone treatment: Scientists discovered that inhibiting the G9a enzyme will stop the dormancy of cancer cells and kill current ones.

“We wanted to better understand why breast cancer does return so we can hopefully find ways to stop it — so people don’t have to live in fear or face the devastating news of a relapse,” shared Institute of Cancer Research Professor Luca Magnani. “Our research identified a key mechanism used by cancer cells to evade therapy by remaining in a dormant state, hibernating before they ‘wake up’ years later and begin to rapidly divide again. I hope our early findings will next lead to research to target these dormant breast cancer cells so that one day, without the need for years of hormone therapy, patients can be sure that their cancer will not return.”

The findings are especially relevant to women of color. According to the American Cancer Society, Black women have the lowest five-year relative breast cancer survival rate, for every stage of diagnosis and every subtype. Breast cancer is also the leading cancer death for Black women.

The scientists’ discovery will help track when cancer cells are developing and terminate dormant cells before a relapse occurs.

“This promising study gives vital clues into how cancer cells evade treatment and survive in an inactive state, and we look forward to seeing how this will inform future research,” shared Dr. Simon Vincent, a director at Breast Cancer Now, a UK-based charity that pledged up to 1 million euros for research into the dormant cells. Its studies in these treatment strategies are to ensure that when doctors eliminate breast cancer, it stays gone.

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