UMD researchers make new discovery to stop the spread of breast cancer

Chances are you know someone who's been diagnosed with breast cancer, a friend, a family member, maybe even yourself.

So much research is being done right now to improve treatment. And some huge strides are being made right here in Baltimore.

Researchers at the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center have discovered something new that could stop cancer from spreading.

Dr. Stuart Martin made the discovery while looking at how breast cancer cells spread to other parts of the body. 

"We studied free floating tumor cells and we found they generated these tenacles on their surface that hadn't been seen before that we named microtenacles."

Those microtenacles play a significant role in breast cancer patients and the odds of cancer returning in other parts of the body.

Dr. Martin says, "Primary tumors in breast cancer shed millions of cells into the blood stream almost every day, the question of significance to patients is what the fate of these circulating cells."  

Dr. Martin says most of those cells self destruct, but the ones that make it into the blood stream can pose a significant risk.

"So when breast cancer or any cancer moves to a distant site they often travel through the blood and this of course is one of the most dangerous phases of the disease for patients because the first tumor that occurs for breast cancer is often easily removed by surgery but once cancer spreads to the bones or brain, it's much more difficult to treat," says Dr. Martin.

For those who've been diagnosed with breast cancer like Tanya Mack, the risk of recurrence is always in the back of her mind.

Tanya says, "We have a strong family history in my family. My mother basically had the same diagnosis about 20 years ago."  

Dr. Martin says the goal of his research, which is partly funded by Komen, is to come up with another way to prevent cancer from spreading. 

"As we move from drugs that inhibit tumor growth we also need classes of drugs to prevent them from spreading around."

Tanya says, "If they could find some answer as to how we could stop this and stop the way these different things spread that would just be phenomenal." 

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