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New hope for treatment of breast cancer

A new discovery by Swiss scientists may make it possible to devise a blood test able to detect breast cancer at an early stage.

A team at Fribourg University, working with colleagues at Lausanne University Hospital, have found a hitherto unknown mechanism that helps tumours to grow, according to a report on the university website on Monday.

They found that the tumour produces a molecule known as PGF (placental growth factor), which gets into the blood stream and attracts large white blood cells, normally found in the bone marrow, to the area of the tumour where they promote the formation of blood vessels. 

These blood vessels supply the tumour with the nutrients and oxygen it requires in order to grow and spread.

The role of the white cells was already known, but the research has supplied a “piece of the puzzle," according to team leader Curzio Rüegg, by demonstrating the part played by the PGF molecule.  

The researchers see a two-fold benefit to their discovery. On the one hand, it should be possible to design a test that detects when cells have been “taught” to form new blood vessels, and thus to catch the cancer at an early stage. On the other, although surgical removal of a localised tumour remains the best option, in case of a recurrence removing such cells will slow down the spread of the disease.

The findings have been published in the specialist journal “Cancer Research”.

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