A new study, published in the April 2018 issue of Science Translational Medicine, explores a long-standing question in the oncology field — how the wound-healing process following cancer surgery may influence the growth and spread of residual cancer cells.
Studies show that breast cancer metastasis (cancer that has spread from the site of the original tumor) sometimes occurs 12 to 18 months following surgery, says Robert Weinberg, PhD, the senior author of the new study, a professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, and a member of the Whitehead Institute, which is affiliated with MIT.
“Given the fact that it spikes and then goes down, that means it’s highly likely to have been caused by the surgery. It settles down at a really low rate for several years after that spike,” says Dr. Weinberg. “No one knows why metastatic relapse is provoked. One theory is the surgery itself scatters cancer cells into the blood, which may then seed at distant sites and cause metastasis.”
But Weinberg and his coauthors are proposing that a different mechanism may be at play — the effects of inflammation due to wound healing.