July 7, 2009

Scientists Decode Lung Cancer’s Spread

A new study reveals the genetic foundation of what causes lung cancer to quickly spread.

Researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) found the same cellular pathway involved in the spread of colorectal cancer is also responsible for providing lung cancer with a better ability to get into and take over other organs without delay and with little need to adapt to its new environment.

Researchers looked at large collections of lung tumor samples and found a pathway called the WNT cell-signaling pathway was the only one out of the six pathways tested that was hyperactive in lung tumors that went on to metastasize and was normal in those that did not spread.

Additional experiments in mice showed lung cancer cells with tumor-initiating mutations in the genes KRAS and EGFR depended on a hyperactive WNT pathway for metastasis. Researchers also found two genes -- HOXB9 and LEF1 -- are activated by WNT and enhance the ability of lung cancer cells to quickly invade and reinitiate tumor growth.

"Our findings suggest that using treatments that target the WNT pathway may help prevent lung cancer from repeatedly seeding itself throughout the vital organs of patients at risk for metastasis," Joan Massague, Ph.D., Chair of the Cancer Biology and Genetics Program at MSKCC and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, was quoted as saying.

SOURCE: Cell, July 2009