Reprinted from NCI Cancer Bulletin for February 8, 2011
The spread of cancer cells from their original location to other sites in the body, known as metastasis, has long been thought of as a one-way journey. But some researchers also believe that metastatic cancer cells can fuel primary tumor growth, with potentially important implications for the timing and nature of cancer treatment.
The concept of tumor self-metastasis, or tumor “self-seeding,” originated at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, based on a series of studies led by Drs. Joan Massagué, head of the Metastasis Research Center, and Larry Norton, deputy physician-in-chief of the center’s breast cancer programs.
In studies of mice, Dr. Massagué observed that breast tumors expressing genes associated with metastasis were growing faster than tumors that didn’t express these genes, even though the genes had no apparent role in increased cell division or decreased cell death. “Moreover, the fraction of dividing cells was not higher in fast-growing tumors versus tumors that are slower growing,” explained Dr. Norton.