The nine-year lung cancer research team was “surprised” and “in awe” at the terrible force they faced.
With a “universal” remedy unlikely, they recommend increased prevention.
Cancer Research UK stressed early detection.
TracerX is the most comprehensive investigation of cancer evolution and spread.
Cancers develop. They can spread and become more aggressive, avoiding the immune system.
A tumor starts as one corrupted cell and grows into millions of cells with diverse mutations.
TracerX tracked that variety and how it changes in lung cancer patients and said the results would apply to other cancers.
“That has never been done at this scale,” stated Francis Crick Institute and University College London Prof. Charles Swanton.
Over 400 patients at 13 UK hospitals had biopsies obtained from different regions of their lung cancer as the disease progressed.
“It has surprised me how adaptable tumours can be,” Prof Swanton said.
“I don’t want to sound too depressing about this, but I think – given the almost infinite possibilities in which a tumour can evolve, and the very large number of cells in a late-stage tumour, which could be several hundred billion cells – then achieving cures in all patients with late-stage disease is a formidable task.”
“I don’t think we’ll find universal cures,” Prof Swanton remarked.
“Prevention, early detection, and early relapse detection will have the greatest impact.”
Obesity, smoking, alcohol, and food increase cancer risk. Inflammation reduction may prevent cancer. Inflammation may cause lung cancer from air pollution and colon cancer from inflammatory bowel disease.
Air-pollution finding changes cancer rules
Seven Nature and Nature Medicine studies have examined evolution.
- Aggressive tumor cells spread throughout the body.
- Higher genetic “chaos” tumors were more likely to recur after surgery to other areas of the body.
- Blood analysis for tumor DNA fragments could detect recurrence 200 days before a CT scan.
- Cancerous cells become more aggressive due to damaged DNA-reading machinery.
- Researchers think the discoveries may help them forecast tumor spread and adjust treatment.
“The exciting results emerging from TracerX improve our understanding that cancer is a disease that evolves as it progresses, meaning that late-stage cancers can become very hard to treat,” said Cancer Research UK’s head of prevention and early diagnosis, Dr. David Crosby.
“This emphasizes the crucial importance of further research to help us detect cancers at the earliest stages or even better, to prevent them.”