Metastatic breast cancer discovery: Medicine’s next big thing?

Published: Apr. 22, 2016 at 11:44 AM EDT|Updated: Apr. 23, 2016 at 12:04 AM EDT
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SEATTLE (Ivanhoe Newswire/WTVM) -- The only thing worse than finding out you have breast cancer, is learning it has spread to other parts of your body. Now researchers in Seattle have made a discovery that could help all cancer patients someday.

Two years ago Beth Caldwell found out she had breast cancer.

"I was taking a shower and doing my self-exams and found a lump."

Not only did Caldwell have breast cancer, it had metastasized and spread to her bones.

"My kids are only four and eight right now so it would be nice to see them grow up and maybe go to their weddings someday," says Caldwell.

Caldwell fears that won't happen.  Metastatic cancers account for 90-percent of all cancer deaths.

Kevin Cheung, MD, an oncologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle Washington says, "I'd talk to patients and they'd say 'Doc, how does this metastasis thing, how is it working?' I'd say it starts with a single cancer cell that somehow escapes from the tumor and then goes through the bloodstream through some process."

But upon further analysis Dr. Cheung and his team discovered these cancer cells actually travel in clusters. They're also led by cells, which they believe operate in a type of 'stealth-mode' that allows metastases to take root long before they're discovered.

"We do think this biology of clusters and how this spreads is generally applicable to all tumors," explains Dr. Cheung.

Dr. Cheung hopes this discovery will lead to breakthrough therapies someday and so does Caldwell.

"To know they have our back and they're helping to drive the next treatment that will keep us alive," says Caldwell.

According to the metastatic breast cancer network, approximately 20 to 30-percent of all breast cancer cases will become metastatic, and about 40,000 patients in the U.S. die from the disease every year.

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