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Tuesday, 27 August 2013 10:33

Stress DOES have an impact on Cancer; It speed up spread by triggering a gene

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Stress fuels cancer by triggering a 'master switch' gene which allows the disease to spread, according to new research.

The 'unexpected' discovery could lead to the development of drugs that target the protein and stop tumours spreading to other organs and causing death.

Stress has long been linked to many forms of the disease including breast cancer and prostate cancer, but the reason has remained a mystery.

Now a team at Ohio State University say our own bodies help turn cancer against us by turning on a 'master switch' gene known as ATF3 which is expressed in response to stressful conditions in all types of cells.

Usually, it causes normal and benign cells to commit suicide if they decide they have been irrevocably damaged.

But cancer cells somehow coax immune-system cells recruited to the site of a tumour to express ATF3.

It is unclear exactly how, but the gene promotes the immune cells to act erratically and give cancer an escape route to other areas of the body.

Professor Tsonwin Hai said: 'If your body does not help cancer cells, they cannot spread as far. So really, the rest of the cells in the body help cancer cells to move, to set up shop at distant sites. And one of the unifying themes here is stress.'

Her researchers first linked the expression of ATF3 in immune-system cells to worse outcomes among a sample of almost 300 breast cancer patients.

Experiments on mice then found those lacking the gene had less extensive spread of breast tumour cells to their lungs than ones that could activate it.

'The cancer cells were always the same, but we had different hosts. The primary tumors were similar in size, but only in the host that can express ATF3 - the stress gene - did the cancer cells metastasize efficiently.

This suggests that the host stress response can help cancer to metastasize.

'If the body is in perfect balance, there isn't much of a problem. When the body gets stressed, that changes the immune system. And the immune system is a double-edged sword,' she said.

In general, when cancer cells first appear, the immune system recognises them as foreign and various immune cells travel to the site to attack them.

Prof Hai said if further research bear out the results 'the stress gene could one day function as a drug target to combat cancer spread, or metastasis as it is known medically.'

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