Do breast cancer cells ‘awaken’ at night?

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A study found that breast cancer cells can spread faster while individuals are sleeping. Breast cancer cells can spread and form tumors in other parts of the body, which makes treatment much more challenging. Hence, the earlier the diagnosis, the more successful treatment is likely to be.

A new study has found that more breast cancer cells travel through the bloodstream when affected individuals are sleeping. This unexpected finding suggests that treatments targeting cancer cells at night may be effective.

Breast cancer is the world’s most prevalent formTrusted Source of cancer, being diagnosed in 2.3 million people worldwide in 2020. Of breast cancer cases, 99% are in women, the majority of whom are ages 40 years and older. A key factor in successful breast cancer treatment is early diagnosis. Cancer that is confined to ducts or lobules in the breast (stage 0) has minimal potential for spread and can usually be treated effectively.

However, in common with many other cancers, circulating tumor cellsTrusted Source (CTCs) from breast tumors may travel through the bloodstream to form metastasisTrusted Source or secondary tumors. Once this happens, the cancer becomes harder to treat.

“Breast cancer is most difficult to treat when it’s started to spread around the body, so it’s important for us to learn more about how, why, and when this happens.”

Dr. Marianne Baker, research information manager at Cancer Research U.K.

Now, a team from ETH Zurich, the University Hospital Basel and the University of Basel has found that CTCs spread and divide much faster during sleep than during waking hours.

The study, published in NatureTrusted Source, suggests that time-controlled treatment may be effective for metastatic breast cancers.

The study first investigated a group of 30 women, 21 of whom had early (non-metastatic) breast cancer and nine of whom had stage IV metastatic disease. No participants were undergoing active treatment or were temporarily off-treatment at the time of the study. Participants consented to donate blood during the active period of the study. .

The researchers took blood samples from the women at 10 a.m. (active) and 4 a.m. (sleeping).

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