Despite causing nine out of ten cancer deaths, metastasis is largely unknown: genetics points to weaknesses

There are many things that we do not know about metastasis and that is a problem because, when we talk about it, we are talking about the main cause of death related to cancer: the spread of cancer cells throughout the rest of the body, causing changes along the way important in cells that make them, among other things, more resistant to current therapies.

The explanations are several, but among them is that until now we had not managed to have large genetic studies on it. While we can find thousands of studies on the genome of cancerous foci, finding studies looking at metastatic foci was almost impossible. So this latest study with 2,399 genomic analyzes of as many cancer patients is great news.

What metastasis can tell us about cancer

Allie Smith

In this work, researchers have sequenced the entire genome of both cancer cells and healthy cells from patients. This means analyzing more than 70 million different mutations related to cancer to study the process of cancerogenesis and metastasis.

And the results have indeed been interesting. Priestly and his team have found that the primary foci of cancer are more genetically diverse than the secondary foci. This opens a door for us to better understand cancer in the enormous jungle of mutations that are related to it. There are so many, in fact, that it becomes very difficult to find out what are its causes and what its effects are. Vital information.

With these data it is easier to know which mutations are critical in the development of cancer. Understanding that the majority of mutations that make a healthy cell sick are the same in all cancerous foci (whether primary or secondary), has allowed researchers to make a first estimate of them. According to his data, there are about 67 critical mutations for kidney cancer and about 178 for lung cancer.

The main problem is that we have not found out what has to happen for the metastasis to begin. So many questions remain unanswered. However, as the researchers point out, this approach opens the door to starting to use already approved drugs that were used for something else. Almost 20% of the studied secondary foci seemed susceptible to it.

With cancer we have experienced something surprising: today, more than 50% of all diagnosed cancers are perfectly curable and, despite the problems of cancer biology, the numbers continue to improve. Studies like this allow us to be optimistic in our siege of that metastasis that has resisted us for so many years.

Image | Sharon Mccutcheon

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