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Stiff and oxygen-deprived tumors promote spread of cancer

When Hippocrates first described cancer around 400 B.C., he referred to the disease's telltale tumors as "karkinos" -- the Greek word for crab. The "Father of Western Medicine" likely noted that cancer's creeping projections mirrored certain crustaceans, and the tumors' characteristic hardness resembled a crab's armored shell. Later, scientists added another attribute: Tumors are hypoxic. That is, they grow so large and dense that they exclude blood vessels, causing a lack of oxygen in their cores. But what role these characteristics play in the development of cancer has remained a mystery. Moving possibly one step closer to an answer, National Science Foundation-funded scientists have found that, in breast cancer, tumor hardness and hypoxia trigger a biological switch that causes certain cells to embark on a cancer-promoting program. This biological switch is critical to a tumors' ability to invade other tissue, a process called metastasis -- and could offer a promising treatment target.

Visit Website | Image credit: Image courtesy of Celeste Nelson, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering