Spying on Cancer

Some cancers are aggressive and fast-growing, requiring equally aggressive treatment. Most cancer deaths are caused by cancer that’s metastasized, or spread from the original location to enter the bloodstream and pop up in other, cancer friendly locations. Others are what H. Gilbert Welch calls “turtles”: slow moving and maybe not needing painful and debilitating treatment right away.

What if we could “spy” on cancer cells and actually see how they break off from a tumor and enter the bloodstream? Maybe we can: Here is a video released by the NCI (National Cancer Institute) that shows, in live time, breast cancer cells breaking from the tumor and entering the bloodstream.

Even better, it shows that those cells use tight ropes (collagen fibers) and have accomplices, a set of our own key immune cells, called macrophages.

This demonstrates the coming together of the key cells that create a TMEM:

‘Metastasis requires the presence of three cells in direct contact on a blood vessel wall: a tumor cell that produces the protein MENA; a peri-vascular macrophage (cells that guide tumor cells to blood vessels); and a blood-vessel endothelial cell. The presence of three such cells in contact with each other is called a tumor microenvironment of metastasis, or TMEM.’ –Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Other studies have shown that TMEM testing of breast cancer tumors have predicted the likelihood of metastasis.

Now that we know how cancer cells break out of tumors and enter the bloodstream, the next step is to slow or stop the process or — even better — to anticipate it. If scientists can figure out which tumors are going to release cells, we’ll know which tumors need aggressive care and which probably will sit around, bothering no one.

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