New Study Finds That Breast Cancer Cells Spread More Rapidly During Sleep

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer accounts for thirty percent of all new female cancers each year.

In turn, just over two hundred and eighty-seven thousand cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed this year in the U.S. alone.

Being that breast cancer is one of the most common cancers, there has been a plethora of research conducted to understand how the cancer forms and what treatment methods are most viable.

However, there is a lack of research regarding when tumors actually shed metastatic cells.

This shedding, known as metastasis, is when cancer cells separate from the original tumor and spread throughout the rest of the body via blood vessels– forming tumors in other organs (metastases).

Up until now, scientists believed that these cells were shed continuously. But, a new study conducted by researchers in Switzerland has found that the shedding of cancer cells mainly occurs during sleep.

Moreover, when cells leave the tumor at night, they divide more rapidly. This means there is a higher chance of forming metastases in the evening as compared to cancer cells that circulate during the day.

So, why does this happen? Hormones and the human body’s circadian rhythm.

“Our research shows that the escape of circulating cancer cells from the original tumor is controlled by hormones such as melatonin, which determine our rhythms of day and night,” explained the study’s lead author Zoi Diamantopoulou.

Not only does this research provide medical professionals with more insight into the spreading of cancer, though.

It can also impact the diagnoses that oncologists find to begin with.

“Some of my colleagues work early in the morning or late in the evening; sometimes they will also analyze blood at unusual hours,” said Nicola Aceto, the study leader.

Analyzing blood at inconsistent hours of the day can cause scientists to detect drastically different circulating cancer cell levels and may impact patient diagnosis.

In turn, Aceto believes that the study’s findings should inform how, or rather, when, doctors perform their procedures.

“In our view, these findings may indicate the need for healthcare professionals to systematically record the time at which they perform biopsies. It may help to make the data truly comparable,” Aceto concluded.


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