Health Headlines: Detecting breast cancer in its early stages

Published: Oct. 6, 2022 at 7:00 AM CDT
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Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) - Every year nearly 2.3 million people across the world will develop breast cancer. That number includes the unfortunate reality that about 12.5% of all women will receive a breast cancer diagnosis in their life. As one of the most common types of cancer, researchers are doing their best to develop ways to catch the disease in its early stages.

When breast cancer is detected quickly, it’s highly treatable. But if it begins to spread, or what doctors call “metastasized,” the prognosis isn’t so good.

Dr. Sara Hurvitz is with the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Ctr. and warns, “So, we understand metastatic breast cancer, it’s not curable.”

Metastasis happens when circulating cancer cells break away from the original tumor and travel in the body via blood vessels. Until now, researchers assumed that tumors released the cells continuously and haven’t known much about when those tumors spread.

But a new study published in the journal “Nature,” showed results when Swiss researchers examined mice and female cancer patients. They found circulating cells that later form metastases mainly arise during sleep.

In other words, when a person or animal is asleep, the tumor seems to “wake up.” Cells that leave a tumor at night also seem to divide more quickly compared to cells that exit in the daytime.

Researchers say this isn’t just an interesting bit of trivia. It could help improve the way breast cancer is diagnosed and treated in the future. For instance, the next step for researchers is to see if giving patients therapies at different times of the day has an effect on outcomes.

The research also notes that the escape of circulating cancer cells from the tumor may be controlled by hormones, such as melatonin, which determine a person’s rhythms of day and night.

Scientists say more studies are needed to determine how to put this discovery into practice.