Deadly cancers show early, detectable differences from benign tumors

May 14, 2018, Duke University Medical Center
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Do metastatic cancer tumors "break bad" or are they "born bad"?

This question is an essential mystery in early detection and treatment. Lacking a clear answer, patients are given the same aggressive therapies when small, abnormal clusters of are discovered early, even though they might well be harmless.

In a study publishing the week of May 14 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a research team co-led by scientists at Duke and the University of Southern California has found that in the colorectal tumors they examined, invasive cancers are born to be bad, and this tendency can potentially be identified at early diagnosis.

"We found evidence that benign and start differently, and that cell movement—an important feature of malignancy—manifests itself very early on during tumor growth," said lead author Marc D. Ryser, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow in Duke's departments of Surgery and Mathematics.

"By testing screen-detected, small tumors for early cell movement as a sign of malignancy, it might be possible to identify which patients are likely to benefit from aggressive treatment," Ryser said.

Ryser and colleagues built on recent research showing that in a subset of human cancers, many key traits of the final tumor are already imprinted in the genome of the founding cell. As such, they reasoned, would start out with the ability to spread rather than developing that trait over time. That is, they are born to be bad.

The researchers analyzed 19 human colorectal tumors with genome sequencing technology and mathematical simulation models. They found signatures of early abnormal cell movement in the majority of the invasive samples—nine of 15. This propensity is required for tumors to spread, causing them to become deadly. Early abnormal cell was not apparent in the four the researchers studied.

"The early growth of the final largely depends on the drivers present in the founding cell," the authors wrote.

The study was small and the researchers acknowledged that verification in a larger sample is required, but the finding is a significant step toward establishing a test to distinguish between deadly and harmless growths.

"Thanks to improved screening technologies, we diagnose more and more small tumors," said senior author Darryl Shibata, M.D., professor in the Department of Pathology at Keck School of Medicine of USC. "Because treating a patient aggressively can cause them harm and side-effects, it is important to understand which of the small screen-detected tumors are relatively benign and slowly growing, and which ones are born to be bad."

Explore further: Researchers trace origins of colorectal cancer tumor cells

More information: Marc D. Ryser el al., "Spatial mutation patterns as markers of early colorectal tumor cell mobility," PNAS (2018). www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1716552115

Related Stories

Researchers trace origins of colorectal cancer tumor cells

February 9, 2015
For the first time, Keck Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC) cancer researchers have traced the origins of colorectal cancer cells, finding important clues to why tumor cells become "good" or "bad," with ...

Research shows possible new target for immunotherapy for solid tumors

April 24, 2018
Research from the University of Cincinnati (UC) reveals a potential new target to help T cells (white blood cells) infiltrate certain solid tumors.

Metabolic profiling may determine aggressiveness, prognosis of prostate cancer

March 26, 2018
A new approach to analyzing prostate gland tissue may help address a major challenge in treating prostate cancer - determining which tumors are unlikely to progress and which could be life threatening and require treatment. ...

Researchers discover tumor cells stiffen before becoming invasive

May 16, 2017
A study recently published in Nature Communications shows that breast cancer cells undergo a stiffening state prior to becoming malignant. The discovery, made by a research team led by Florence Janody, from Instituto Gulbenkian ...

Researchers demonstrate mathematical modeling limits aggressive tumor cell growth

May 24, 2017
Cancers can be viewed as complex dynamic systems because they have many interacting parts that can change over time and space. Perhaps the most well-known complex dynamic system is the weather and, similar to weather forecasting, ...

Single-cell analysis reveals subtypes of colorectal tumors

March 20, 2017
Combining single-cell genomics and computational techniques, a research team including Paul Robson, Ph.D., director of single-cell biology at The Jackson Laboratory (JAX), has defined cell-type composition of cancerous cells ...

Recommended for you

Lung cancer drug could be repurposed to target 'zombie' proteins linked to leukemia

September 25, 2018
A new study by scientists at the University of Liverpool highlights how a clinically-approved lung cancer drug could potentially be 'repurposed' to design new treatments for future cancer therapies.

A protein called vaccinia-related kinase 1 may help cancer establish itself in new areas of the body during metastasis

September 25, 2018
Sometimes negative results can point researchers in the right direction.

Combo therapy of prostatectomy plus radiotherapy may improve survival in prostate cancer

September 25, 2018
High-risk prostate cancer, that which has continued to grow but not yet metastasized, is commonly treated with combination therapies. Each method has pros and cons, but there is little clarity whether one might be more effective ...

Brigatinib becomes potential new first-line option for ALK-positive non-small lung cancer

September 25, 2018
Results of a 275-patient, multi-national phase III clinical trial known as ALTA-1L published today in the New England Journal of Medicine and presented concurrently in the press program at the International Association for ...

Two studies describe improved approach to bone marrow transplant

September 25, 2018
Two recent studies in the journal Leukemia present a new approach for bone marrow donation and transplant that preclinical laboratory tests suggest could make the life-saving procedure safer and more effective for patients.

Unhealthy lifestyle responsible for 45,000 predicted cases of bowel cancer in next decade

September 25, 2018
A UNSW study shows that a large proportion of bowel cancers in Australia are preventable by adopting a healthy lifestyle – particularly for men.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.