Breast cancer patients tend to see their cancer spread just months after undergoing surgical treatments to remove their tumor.
Findings of a new study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine on April 11 now reveal why. Researchers have found that the healing process following breast cancer treatment surgeries may cause the disease to spread.
Wound Healing Process And Emergence Of New Tumors
The study, which used a wound-healing model in mice that harbor breast cancer cells, suggests that while the immune system is busy healing the surgical scar, it stops to restrain the cancer cells that have strayed away from the original tumor site. It then allows the cancer cells to grow freely into new and more dangerous tumors.
What makes new tumors dangerous is that most of the people who die from breast cancer were not killed by the initial tumor but by its spread to other parts of the body.
"We describe an experimental model system that definitively links surgery and the subsequent wound-healing response to the outgrowth of tumor cells at distant anatomical sites," study researcher Robert Weinberg, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and colleagues wrote in their research.
"The systemic inflammatory response induced after surgery promotes the emergence of tumors whose growth was otherwise restricted by a tumor-specific T cell response."
The researchers said that it is not the actual surgery that causes the formation of new tumors but the post-surgical response. Researchers said that the latter provokes already disseminated cells to metastasize.
Fortunately, the researchers appear to have identified a solution. Days of anti-inflammatory therapy was observed to keep the immune brake engaged in the animal study and prevent the spread of the tumor.
Research in people likewise suggests that anti-inflammatory treatments may provide the same benefit albeit further studies are needed to back up these findings. Nonetheless, researchers who have conducted these studies in people are convinced that the benefits are likely real.
In a small study, Michael Retsky, an oncology researcher at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, found that breast cancer patients who received the anti-inflammatory drug ketorolac for several days around the time of their surgery were five times less likely to see their cancer spread compared with those who did not receive the medication.
Figures from the non-profit organization Breastcancer.org estimate that 266,120 new cases of invasive breast cancer and 63,960 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer will occur in women in the United States this year.