Skip to main content
Local News

Fred Hutch Researchers Root out Sleeping Breast Cancer Cells to Stop Metastasis

By January 24, 2019No Comments

Researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center led by Dr. Cyrus Ghajar recently uncovered promising new science in the battle against metastatic breast cancer. Their findings, published today in Nature Cell Biology, show that it’s possible to destroy cancer cells that can hide for years in people’s bone marrow.

Chemotherapy is often effective at destroying fast-growing cells, but there’s a problem: cancer cells can go dormant and avoid chemotherapy, only to return years later. In patients with the most common form of breast cancer, dormant cells can avoid detection only to wreak havoc again after many years. This process, known as metastasis, is responsible for more than 90 percent of the deaths associated with breast cancer.

“What were those cells doing the entire time? Well, what we know now is that cells leave the breast very early during tumor progression. They can lay dormant in these organs for a very, very long period of time,” Ghajar told GeekWire.

Both active and sleeping cancer cells can hide among blood vessels in bone marrow, using what’s called survival signaling as protection. Ghajar wanted to know if it would be possible to remove the protective signaling and kill the cells with chemotherapy.