Identifying new pathways that cause cancer cells to spread

July 10th, 2012

When diagnosed early, breast cancer can be treated with a high degree of success. However, if the cancer spreads to other areas like bone and the lungs – a process known as metastasis – treatment options are limited and the rate of survival drops significantly. Associate Professor Robin Anderson is passionate about finding out why certain cancer cells spread while others remain within the primary breast tumour.

Robin-Anderson_300_300Associate Professor Anderson and her team at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre looked inside cancer cells that had metastasised to bone and the lungs. The team examined the genetic differences that could account for the variation in behaviour, compared to cancer cells that had remained in the primary tumour.

Examining the genetic make-up of these different cell types has enabled Associate Professor Anderson to identify specific genes that may be responsible for causing metastasis to occur. Her work is now focused on testing these candidate genes directly for their ability to control the spread of breast cancer cells.

Understanding the fundamental cellular processes that drive breast cancer development and progression may open up new avenues for developing drugs to prevent secondary cancers from developing, and ultimately, improve outcomes for breast cancer patients.