New Study Into Cancer Self-Seeding Offers Hope for Mesothelioma Patients

New York—In a recently published study, researchers have revealed that cancer can actually “seed” itself through the body, and that tumors can re-seed themselves even after having been surgically removed. This may lead to difficulty in treating certain diffuse, complex cancers such as mesothelioma, the asbestos cancer.

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer, affecting only 2,000 to 3,000 new patients each year in the United States, and it is also unusual because of the way it develops. Instead of forming a discrete, well-defined tumor, like the tumors that occur with lung or breast cancer, mesothelioma spreads across the thin layer that covers and protects the lungs and other organs. Since it is so widespread, it is nearly impossible to remove with surgery, unless it is caught in the earliest stage of development. Chemotherapy and radiation tend to be less than optimal treatments, as well.

The new study, which was conducted by Joan Massague, PhD., Chairman of the Cancer Biology and Genetics Program and the Sloan-Kettering Institute, may be helpful in the development of drugs that can target and halt the metastasis of cancer. The self-seeding process, the researchers discovered, occurs when a cell escapes from the tumor and finds a temporary location in which to linger, such as bone marrow. Later, even months after treatment to remove the initial tumor, these cells can be circulated throughout the body and attach themselves to a tissue, leading to a recurrence of the cancer.

Said Massague, the researchers hope to pioneer “targeted therapies that may interfere with the self-seeding process and perhaps slow or even prevent tumor progression.”

Mesothelioma, which has a grim prognosis, can be attributed to asbestos exposure in nearly all cases. It can remain latent within the body for a remarkably long period of time, often being diagnosed decades after the exposure to asbestos began occurring. Most patients do not live more than a few months after being diagnosed, however.