'Alarm' warns of recurrent cancers
An alarm signal from the immune system offers an "invaluable" early warning of returning cancer, research has shown.
Scientists hope the discovery will make it possible to catch recurring cancers before they take hold, increasing the survival chances of patients.
The same team found that rousing sleeping cancers could weaken them and ultimately lead to their destruction by the body's own defences.
Often cancers are successfully treated only to return years later. Breast cancer is especially prone to making an unwelcome comeback – nearly a quarter of women with the disease will experience it a second time within 10 years.
Knowing when a cancer is about to recur would give doctors a valuable head start, allowing them to attack a tumour before it begins to spread.
The main cause of cancer recurrence is small groups of tumour cells that hide away lying dormant, only to re-awaken once they have learned to evade the immune system.
In a study of mice, researchers looked for early signs of an immune response triggered by a dormant cancer waking up. They found that detecting the signal made it possible to predict accurately when a cancer was about to return. The findings are reported in the latest issue of the journal Nature Medicine.