One reason cancer is so deadly is its ability to spread throughout the body, in a process known as metastasis. In fact, your chance of surviving cancer is pretty good as long as it’s confined to its original site. It’s metastatic cancer that kills.
This means that understanding how cancer spreads is a key to developing better treatment options…
Researchers have been studying this phenomenon for more than 100 years, with very little ground gained. But that may be about to change. Mainstream medicine has made some promising discoveries regarding cancer metastasis and possible ways to prevent it.
Read on to discover these hopeful new developments…
Understanding the enemy: How metastasis works
Cancer is industrious. A tumor can send cancer cells into the bloodstream constantly, looking for new places to gain traction and set up shop.
Cancer often makes its first move into nearby tissues and lymph nodes. The cancer cells can then create new blood vessels, a process called angiogenesis, to support the spread to distant tissues and organs throughout the body.
Once cancer sets up in a new location, it can repeat the process, and so on again and again until cancer spreads all over.
While some types of tumors are capable of forming metastases in virtually every organ in the body, the most frequent target organs of metastasis are bone, brain, liver, and lung.1 Once the cancer reaches these organs it’s late-stage cancer. It’s much more difficult, if not impossible, to treat.
Altering the Soil: Using the body to stop the spread of cancer
One theory about metastasis that has held sway for a number of years is the “seed and soil” hypothesis. Developed by Stephan Paget in 1889, it states “that metastasis depends on cross-talk between selected cancer cells (the ‘seeds’) and specific organ microenvironments (the ‘soil’).”2
So like seeds and soil, as long as the body environment supports cancer cells, they’ll continue to grow and spread.
In a study published in the online journal PLOS in June 2017, researchers turned their attention to the tumor microenvironment for answers.
They found a metabolite in the body called 20-Hydroxyeicosatetraenoic acid (20-HETE) plays a role in helping cancer to spread. 20-HETE naturally occurs in the body and is necessary for metabolism, sodium and fluid transport to the kidneys, and regulating blood flow to the organs, among other processes.
Unfortunately, cancer cells can also use 20-HETE in angiogenesis, which scientists think is the precondition needed for cancer cells to travel throughout the body.
In the presence of cancer, 20-HETE also increases chronic inflammation, making the body environment a perfect place for disease to flourish.
To test a theory, the researchers inserted breast cancer cells into mice. Breast cancer tends to metastasize to the bones, brain, liver and lungs. Once the cancer established itself and started to spread (about 15 days), they injected the mice with a molecule called HET0016, which inhibits parts of 20-HETE activity.
They gave the mice a dose of this substance five days a week for three weeks. At the end of the study they discovered that administration of HET0016. . .
- Decreased tumor volume and lung metastasis
- Reduced migration and invasion of tumor cells in the lungs
- Decreased the number of pro-inflammatory cytokines and other elements that contribute to tumor growth in the lung microenvironment.3
These results show that HET0016 may be a promising way to stop breast cancer metastasis to the lungs.
In a study published in the July 2016 issue of the journal Cancer Research, scientists tested the efficacy of HET0016 on 20-HETE in pancreatic cancer cells. They focused on the inflammatory processes associated with 20-HETE, because prolonged and unresolved inflammation is associated with the development of pancreatic cancer.
Using in vitro methods, they added 20-HETE to pancreatic cancer cells and discovered it promoted pancreatic tumor growth and spontaneous metastasis. They also found that pancreatic cancer cells produce more 20-HETE than healthy cells.
Too much 20-HETE leads to over-expression of an enzyme that attracts macrophages, immune cells that are associated with increased malignancy in a tumor microenvironment.4
But when they treated the cells with HET0016, it reduced macrophage migration toward pancreatic cancer cells. This made the microenvironemnt less hospitable to the cancer cells and reduced the spread.
The researchers concluded that treating 20-HETE with HET0016 reduced inflammation, tumor growth and metastasis and could be used as a new treatment for pancreatic cancer.5
Immobilizing the cancer cells themselves
Researchers are exploring advancements in nanotechnology, the area of science that focuses on the manipulation of individual atoms and molecules, to stop cancer metastasis.
Scientists can reduce the size of certain materials to nanoscale, which is much smaller than the eye can see. You could almost say it’s infinitely smaller than what we can see. One nanometer (nm) is one billionth of a meter. A single water molecule is about 1.5 nanometers; a single strand of human hair is about 80,000 to 100,000 nanometers.6
The outside edges of all cells contain broad fibers called lamellipodia. They’re like little legs that help the cells move throughout the body as needed. (The suffix “-podia” means “foot” or “footlike,” from Greek.)
But cancer cells also contain an extra protrusion off the lamellipodia, called filopodia. Cancer cells produce both kinds of “feet” in excess, which means they can move faster and more efficiently than healthy cells.
So researchers are testing the use of gold nanorods on these “cancer feet” to stop the spread of cancer cells.
A nanorod is an element that ranges in size from one to 100 nm. Scientists reduce the element gold down to this tiny size, at which point the gold nanoparticles display different physical and chemical properties.
In a study published in May 2017, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta injected gold nanorods into cancer cells. When they did this, they found it delayed the migration of the cells. In essence, it hobbled the “cancer feet” so they couldn’t move very fast.
The researchers added another step of heating the gold nanorods with a laser to near-infrared light. This effectively stopped the movement of the cancer cells altogether.7
In another study, researchers at the same lab tested this method in a mouse model and found the gold nanorods induced apoptosis (natural death) in cancer cells, without affecting the nearby healthy cells. They also performed a 15-month follow-up and found no long-term toxicity in the mice.8
This treatment could be a vast improvement over chemotherapy and other treatments that destroy healthy and cancerous cells indiscriminately.
So that’s what’s happening in the world of Big Science. I hope these treatments eventually come to market and help patients. Meanwhile, our last issue talked about a natural treatment you can put to work against cancer right now. It’s one of the more effective steps you can take, and it’s good for prevention, too.
Lee Euler, Publisher