Newswise — It is estimated that cancer metastasis, which means that cancer has spread to a different part of the body from where it started, is responsible for about 90 percent of cancer deaths. Virtually any cancer type can form metastatic tumors. Once a cancer metastasizes, it is very difficult to treat.

Since the term “metastasis” was coined nearly 200 years ago, thousands of scientific papers have been published on the subject. A comprehensive literature review authored by Danny Welch, PhD, associate director of Education at The University of Kansas Cancer Center, and published in Cancer Research seeks to summarize the metastatic research landscape and identify the distinguishing features of metastasis.

A literature review is a valuable tool for researchers as it surveys and concisely recaps previously published studies. Reviews also identify needs for additional research or research inconsistences. Metastasis has been the subject of many comprehensive reviews, but this is the first paper that attempts to define the process in terms of core hallmarks.

In the review, Dr. Welch identifies four hallmarks of metastasis:

  1. Motility and invasion
  2. Ability to migrate to secondary site or local microenvironments
  3. Adaptability
  4. Ability to colonize other tissues

“My research colleague and co-author, Douglas Hurst at The University of Alabama at Birmingham, and I scrutinized well over 10,000 studies and publications to draw these conclusions,” Dr. Welch said. “By defining these first hallmarks of metastasis, we provide the means for focusing efforts on the aspects of metastasis that will improve patient outcomes.”

Dr. Welch has dedicated his 40-year research career to better understanding the regulation of cancer metastasis. His laboratory discovered eight of the 30 known genes that suppress metastasis. Over Welch’s research career, metastatic cancer survival rates have improved as understanding of the metastatic process has increased.

“With some of the new data comes the need to refine, consolidate and reflect upon what the next steps are so that the pace of research and delivery of research findings to cancer patients accelerates,” Dr. Welch said.

Doctors Welch and Hurst hope that refining definitions and bringing together diverse data will identify vulnerabilities that metastasis researchers can exploit in the quest to treat cancer metastasis. Controlling or preventing the metastasis of cancer is necessary to improve cancer survival and quality of life.

“There is nothing more important – it is metastases that kill cancer patients. I have known too many patients who have succumbed to metastatic cancer,” Dr. Welch said. “Too many others who currently have metastatic cancer deserve our uncompromised attention to that which most risks their ability to live longer and well.”


Journal Link: Cancer Research