UVA researchers say new findings offer hope to keep breast cancer from spreading

New discoveries made by researchers at the University of Virginia Cancer Center could help prevent breast cancer from spreading.

The findings illuminate the various roles of blood vessels in solid tumors, which could enhance existing cancer treatments that have shown promise in recent years, according to a news release from the University of Virginia.

“Blood vessels can act both as good guys and bad guys in a growing tumor,” said researcher Andrew Dudley.

In one scientific paper, his team reported that the effectiveness of immunotherapy drugs, called the “immune check blockade,” is enhanced when blood vessels are targeted in a specific way. This gives the immune system a better chance at fighting off cancer and other diseases, according to the news release.

A second paper by the team outlined findings that could help prevent breast cancer from spreading to other parts of the body, Dudley said. Researchers found that metastatic breast cancer cells activate remodeling fibroblasts.

That process allows cancer cells to “escape” the tumor and spread to the lymph node.

Dudley and his fellow researchers say that this new understanding of how the cells work could allow them to target and “interrupt” the spreading of cancer cells early on.

“We’ve learned from this study how cancer cells can take advantage of noncancerous cells in their surroundings and change their behavior in order to enter vessels and spread to different sites in the body — especially the lymph nodes,” Dudley said.

“Cancer really is a devious disease, and this is just one example of why it can be so difficult to treat. Therapies that target both the cancer cells and the noncancerous cells that help the tumor along may prove beneficial in the long run.”

Dudley hopes these two discoveries could influence a big change in how cancer is treated moving forward.

“On one hand, blood vessels are a passageway that allows special immune cells to enter the tumor, where they will hopefully find cancer cells and kill them,” Dudley said. “On the other hand, blood vessels act as a highway for cancer cells to enter the bloodstream and spread to distant sites in the body.”

Read more about the research on UVA’s website.

Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk started working at WTOP in 2016 and has lived in Howard County, Maryland, her entire life. She's thrilled to be a reporter for WTOP telling stories on air. She works as both a television and radio reporter in the Maryland and D.C. areas. 

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