A new study has found that breast cancer most often spreads while patients are sleeping, which researchers say could dramatically change the way cancer is diagnosed and treated in the future.
As part of the study, the researchers pointed to the need for ‘doctors to take notes when taking biopsies for cancer, as this could also affect the number of cancer cells detected’, The Independent reported.
According to the World Health Organization, breast cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer, with around 2.3 million people developing the disease each year.
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The researchers concluded that if the disease is detected early, patients are more likely to respond to treatment. But things become more difficult if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
The study, led by researchers at ETH Zurich, Basel University Hospital and the University of Basel, discovered that circulating cancer cells mainly appear when patients are sleeping.
“The tumor wakes up when the affected person is asleep,” said Nicola Aceto, professor of molecular oncology at ETH Zurich in Switzerland and lead author of the study.
The study experimented on 30 cancer patients and mice, in which researchers found that the tumor produced more cells that circulated during sleep.
“Our research shows that metastatic cancer cells escape from the original tumor, controlled by hormones such as melatonin, which determines our day and night rhythm,” said Zoa Diamentopoulou, lead author of the study and postdoctoral fellow at ETH Zurich.
According to the researchers, cells that leave the tumor at night divide faster and therefore have a higher capacity to form metastases compared to circulating cells that leave the tumor during the day.