Metastatic Breast Cancer Discovery: Medicine's Next Big Thing?

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Researchers in Seattle have made a discovery that could help all cancer patients someday. (KFSN)

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.

Like most moms, Beth Caldwell never has a shortage of family pictures on her phone. But two years ago she found out she was short on time.

Caldwell told Ivanhoe, "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," detailed Caldwell.

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

Kevin Cheung, MD, an oncologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle Washington told Ivanhoe "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," explained Dr. Cheung.

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

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

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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Kristen Lidke Woodward

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