Scottish experts find a "trigger" that accelerates the spread of breast cancer cells to other parts of the body, particularly in the lungs. The results of the study may pave the way for the development of lifesaving medical measures that can help to halt tumour metastasis. With this, the scientists hope to contribute to the progress of breast cancer treatment through their new findings.

The most common cause of deaths among patients with breast cancer is complications due to the spread of the tumor in the lungs and other parts of the body. Scientists from the University of Edinburgh MRC Center for Reproductive Health previously analyzed the mechanism of actions of immune cells called macrophages in patients with breast cancer. They found that macrophages support the breast cancer cells, in terms of attacking the lungs and subsequently developing secondary tumors.

The new study published in the Journal Of Experimental Medicine discovers that macrophages rely on chemokines to interact efficiently with breast cancer cells. Chemokines are proteins that send signals to nearby responsive cells. In the experiment, the scientists interrupted the action of the signalling molecules in mice and later discovered that the development of secondary tumors was reduced by two-thirds. The researchers also found that blocking the signals prevents the cancer cells in the blood stream from being transported to the lungs.

"Research supports the idea that cells of the immune system, such as macrophages, play a crucial role in the growth and spread of breast cancer," says James Jopling, director of the Breast Cancer Campaign and Breakthrough Breast Cancer in Scotland. "This Scottish study reveals even more detail about the complex relationship of immune cells and cancer cells in the development of secondary breast cancer."

The scientists behind the research funded by the U.S. Department of Defense and National Institutes of Health, and the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust in the U.K., hope to develop new treatments to prevent the spread of breast cancer, considering that the chemokine signals studied were similar with humans. They state that having the molecule CCR1 as their target may result in treatments that pose fewer side effects and still bring effective results.

It is said that deaths due to breast cancer in Scotland are more than 1,000 a year, and so the researchers welcome any information that can aid their work.

"Our findings open the door to the development of treatments that target the tumour microenvironment, which may stop the deadly progression of breast cancer in its tracks," Center for Reproductive Health Director Professor Jeffrey Pollard says.

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