Blocking enzyme 'could stop breast cancer spread'
Early research suggests that it may be possible to prevent the spread of breast cancer by blocking the activity of a particular enzyme called lysyl oxidase-like 2 (LOXL2).
Scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) found that the enzyme is necessary for the spread of cancer cells from the initial tumour in the breast to other organs.
It helps cancer cells to invade surrounding tissue by controlling levels of molecules called TIMP1 and MMP9, which have previously been shown to play a role in cancer spread, or 'metastasis'.
The researchers also showed that, by blocking the enzyme's function, they were able to decrease the spread of breast cancer cells to the lungs, liver and bones in laboratory models.
The findings, which are published in the journal Cancer Research, suggest that a drug designed to block LOXL2 could one day be used to prevent the spread of disease in women with advanced breast cancer.
Lead researcher Dr Janine Erler, from the ICR, revealed that the majority of the 12,000 women who die from breast cancer each year in the UK do so because their cancer has spread to other parts of their body.
"Our study shows that inhibiting the action of LOXL2 can significantly reduce the spread of breast cancer, suggesting that drugs which block this enzyme may be effective in preventing patients' cancer from spreading," she said.
The study also suggests that high levels of LOXL2 could be used to identify women whose breast cancer is likely to spread and may need more aggressive treatment.
Tests on tissue samples taken from breast cancer patients showed that those with elevated levels of the enzyme tended to have a higher chance of cancer spread and a poorer prognosis than those with low levels of LOXL2.
Study first author Holly Barker, a postdoctoral fellow in Dr Erler's laboratory, said: "This knowledge could help us tailor treatment type and intensity to individual patients."
Dr Julie Sharp, senior science information manager at Cancer Research UK, which provided funding for the study, said: "Cancer spread is an important problem in breast and other cancers, and scientists are searching to find new ways to stop cancer spread and save many more lives.
"The team have shown that targeting the molecule LOXL2, which plays a key role in spread, could offer new approaches to tackle this problem."