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Breast Cancer Metastases Happens Faster During Night, Reveals Study

Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers affecting mostly women all across the world. Every year, around 2.3 million people become prey to this disease. If the cancer is detected early, patients respond positively to treatment. Things get complicated if the cancer has already metastasized, which is the process of the cancer cells moving away from the original spot and moving through blood vessels to form tumors in other organs of the body.

Till now, scientists studying cancer and its different aspects did not give much attention as to when does the cancerous tumor shed the metastatic cells. Earlier, it was thought that these cells are being continuously shed. Now a study conducted by researchers at ETH Zurich, the University Hospital Basel and the University of Basel has discovered that the movement of the cancer cells within the human body usually happens when that affected person is asleep. The results of the study have recently been published in the journal Nature.

Commenting on the findings, study leader Nicola Aceto, Professor of Molecular Oncology at ETH Zurich, said, "When the affected person is asleep, the tumour awakens." As part of the study, which included 30 female cancer patients and mouse models, the researchers found that the tumour produces more circulating cells when the body is asleep. Cells, which detach from the tumour at night also divide more quickly and therefore metastasise faster, compared to cell movement during the day.

Zoi Diamantopoulou, the study's lead author and a postdoctoral researcher at ETH Zurich, said, "Our research shows that the escape of circulating cancer cells from the original tumour is controlled by hormones such as melatonin, which determine our rhythms of day and night."

Additionally, the research disclosed that the time at which tumour or blood samples are taken for diagnosis may impact the findings of oncologists. It was an accidental finding along these lines that first put the researchers on the right track. "Some of my colleagues work early in the morning or late in the evening; sometimes they'll also analyze blood at unusual hours," Aceto said. The scientists were surprised to find that samples taken at different times of the day had very different levels of circulating cancer cells.

Another clue was the very high number of cancer cells found per unit of blood in mice when compared to humans. The reason was that as nocturnal animals, mice sleep during the day, which is when scientists collected most of their samples.

The next step before researchers is to decide how these findings can be included into ongoing cancer treatments to improve cancer treatment.

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