Scientists have uncovered how tumor cells in aggressive uterine cancer can switch disguises and spread so quickly to other parts of the body. In a study published in Neoplasia, researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine created a map showing which genes were switched on and off in different parts of the tumor, providing a “signature” of these switches throughout the genome.
The researchers say their findings support the idea that cancer cells suffer from an “identity crisis” — they switch off certain genes specific to the tissue they came from — helping them fit in more easily in different tissues, spreading the cancer. Switching these genes back on, they say, could lead to effective treatments.
“Carcinosarcoma cells show a unique ability to jump horses in mid-stream, switching from one cell type to another,” said Dr. Ian Hagemann, one of the authors of the study. “It’s not always changes in the DNA itself, but how the DNA is ‘decorated’ to turn the genes on and off — called epigenetics — that can determine cell type. I wanted to find out if there were consistent epigenetic changes in carcinosarcoma that could explain why it’s so aggressive.”
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