According to a study, breast cancer spreads while you're asleep.


According to a study, breast cancer spreads while you're asleep

Researchers from the University Hospital Basel, University of Basel, and ETH Zurich found that circulating cancer cells that later develop into metastases largely appear during the sleep phase of the affected individuals.

The research's findings were disseminated in the journal Nature.

According to the World Health Organization, one of the most common types of cancer is breast cancer (WHO). Throughout 2.3 million people around the world get the illness every year. Patients typically benefit from therapy if breast cancer is found in its early stages by doctors.

However, if cancer has already spread to other organs, things get much more challenging. When circulating cancer cells split out from the primary tumour and migrate through blood arteries to different organs, this process is known as metastasis.

When tumours lose metastatic cells has not received much attention in cancer research yet. Previous research thought that tumours continuously release these cells.

Nicola Aceto, professor of molecular oncology, summarises the phenomenon as "the tumour awakens when the affected person is asleep." The researchers discovered throughout their investigation, which involved 30 female cancer patients and mice models, that the tumour produces more circulating cells when the body is sleeping. In addition to dividing more quickly, cells that leave the tumour at night have a higher propensity to metastasize than circulating cells that do so during the day.

According to Zoi Diamantopoulou, a postdoctoral researcher at ETH Zurich and the study's lead author, "our research demonstrates that hormones like melatonin, which regulate our rhythms of day and night, are responsible for controlling the escape of circulating cancer cells from the original tumour."

Modifying treatments for the tumour

The study also suggests that the timing of tumour or blood samples for diagnosis may affect oncologists' conclusions. The researchers were initially pointed in the right direction by an unintentional discovery along these lines. Aceto says with a smile, "Some of my coworkers work early in the morning or late in the evening; occasionally they'll even analyse blood at odd hours. The level of circulating cancer cells in samples collected at various times of the day varied greatly, surprising the investigators.

Another indicator was the very large proportion of cancer cells in mice's blood compared to that in people. The cause was that mice, which are nocturnal creatures, slept throughout the day when investigators often collected their samples.

These findings, according to Aceto, "may point to the need for healthcare providers to systematically record the time at which they do biopsies." Making the data truly comparable "may assist."

The researchers' next task will be to determine how to best apply these discoveries to currently used cancer therapy. ETH Professor Nicola Aceto plans to do additional research with patients to determine whether other cancers behave similarly to breast cancer and whether the timing of treatment for patients can improve the effectiveness of current medications.

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