Scientists claim to have achieved a key breakthrough in the hunt for a cure for breast cancer by discovering how to stop the disease from spreading.

A British team, led by the Institute of Cancer Research, has identified the enzyme that promotes the spread —— changing the tumour from a single, more treatable one, to a number of separate cancers threatening other organs.

If drugs can be created to block the enzyme, thousands of lives could be saved every year, say the scientists.

Cancer can often be treated and even cured if caught at an early stage. But there is no treatment or way to prevent the spreading or “metastasis” of cancer in the later stages.

According to lead scientist Dr Janine Erler, more than 90 per cent of cancer deaths are because the disease has spread to other organs.

In their study, the scientists found that the enzyme lysyl oxidase—like 2 —— or LOXL2 —— is needed for tumour cells to escape from the breast and invade surrounding tissue.

Dr Erler said: “Our study shows that inhibiting the action of LOXL2 can significantly reduce the spread of breast cancer, suggesting that drugs which block this enzyme may be effective in preventing patients’ cancer from spreading.”

LOXL2 has also been linked to the progression of colon and oesophageal cancer.

Arlene Wilkie, Director of research at Breast Cancer Campaign, said: “Although we can treat breast cancer that has spread, we cannot cure it. This laboratory research shows great promise and we look forward to seeing how it translates into patients.”

Keywords: breast cancer

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