Researchers in the US have taken a step forward in understanding how the body’s response to stress might be linked to the spread of breast cancer. Publishing their findings in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, the team focused on a gene called ATF3, which is switched on in immune cells in response to stresses such as radiation, or a high fat diet. The researchers found that cancer cells somehow send out ‘stress signals’ that influence neighbouring immune cells to switch on the gene, which subverts them, allowing the cancer cells to escape and start spreading.
Although the evidence linking stressful life situations to cancer is somewhat unclear, the researchers think their finding could provide a plausible biological pathway linking stress to cancer spread. The exact details of what’s going on still aren’t clear, so there’s a lot more work to be done before this knowledge can be turned into treatments or preventive approaches for cancer.