Cancer cells force neighbouring healthy tissue to betray the body and assist their growth and spread, a study has found.
Tumours cause healthy cells to release growth signal chemicals they cannot make themselves, but which fuel cancer, the research showed.
At the heart of this process are faulty versions of the KRAS gene, which is linked to nearly a fifth of all cancers.
Scientists made the discovery after studying communication networks in cells from a type of pancreatic cancer called ductal adenocarcinoma.
This is one of the most deadly forms of cancer and responsible for about 9,000 deaths each year in Britain.
Study author Chris Tape, from The Institute of Cancer Research in London, said: “What our research underlines is that cancer cells do not drive the growth and spread of tumours — they can bully their healthy neighbours into helping them.”
Colleague Claus Jorgensen, from the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, said: “We now know that tumours are a complex mix of genetically diverse cancer cells and multiple types of healthy cells, all communicating with each other via an intricate web of interactions.
“Untangling this web, and decoding individual signals, is vital to identify which of the multitude of communications are most important for controlling tumour growth and spread.
“We have identified a key role played by the most commonly mutated gene in cancer in communicating with healthy cells. Blocking its effects could be an effective cancer treatment.”
The team, whose findings are reported in the journal Cell, studied thousands of different growth factors, proteins and receptor molecules across different cancer cells.
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