New study explains how and why lung cancer spreads

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby

By: Chuck Bednar for


Lung cancer cells can spread more easily than other types of cells because the protein ties that tether them together are severed, allowing them to break loose, a team of researchers from the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute report in a new study.

In research published Wednesday in the journal Cell Reports, the study authors explained that microscopic images revealed that the ties that keep cells held together, which are controlled by a protein known as TIAM1, are cut to pieces when cell maintenance goes wrong in cancer cells.

Typically, healthy cells routinely scrap older cell parts so that they can be broken down and reused. However, in lung cancer cells, the process spirals out of control and causes too many of the TIAM1 ties to be scrapped. Targeting this process could keep lung cancer cells from spreading by keeping them attached firmly to one another, the researchers said in their study.

“This important research shows for the first time how lung cancer cells sever ties with their neighbors and start to spread around the body, by hijacking the cells’ recycling process and sending it into overdrive,” said lead author Dr Angeliki Malliri from the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute at the University of Manchester.

“Targeting this flaw could help stop lung cancer from spreading,” she added.

According to the study authors, there are more than 43,000 new cases of lung cancer diagnosed in the UK each year. It is also that country’s most common cause of cancer deaths, killing more than 35,000 patients annually.

“Lung cancer causes more than one in five of all cancer deaths in the UK and it’s vital that we find effective new treatments to fight the disease and save more lives,” said Nell Barrie, Cancer Research UK’s senior science information manager.

In the US, the National Cancer Institute reports that the two main types of lung cancer (small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer) were responsible for a combined 159,260 deaths this year thus far. They also note that there have been nearly 225,000 new cases diagnosed in 2014.

“Early-stage research like this is essential to find treatments which could one day block cancer spread – which would be a game changer,” she added. “It’s also crucial that we find ways to diagnose the disease earlier, when treatment is more likely to be successful and the cancer is less likely to have spread.”

According to International Business Times, World Health Organization statistics indicate that approximately 70 percent of all global lung cancer deaths are associated with tobacco use. Lung cancers killed a reported 1.59 million people worldwide, and the condition is difficult to treat as it can lie dormant for nearly 20 years before becoming aggressive, the publication added.

In August, researchers analyzed data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program and revealed that US lung cancer rates are declining as a whole. However, they also found that lung cancer rates vary by subtype, sex, race/ethnicity and age, and reported that an estimated 90 to 95 percent of lung cancers in the US could be attributed to smoking.