• The Metastatic Cascade

    Personal Stories


    Guest blog by Karen Durham, Member of Susan G. Komen Advocates In Science (AIS) steering committee

    The North Central Region of Susan G. Komen hosted a series of educational webinars during October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The October 22 webinar was titled “The Metastatic Cascade” presented by Dr. Danny Welch, PhD, a Komen Scholar and the Director for the National Foundation for Cancer Research Center for Metastasis Research for the University of Kansas Medical Center. Dr. Welch’s research is focused on understanding how tumor cells acquire the ability to spread to other parts of the body, or metastasize.

    I have not called Dr. Welch “doctor” in a long time! To me, he has been ‘Danny’ for many years. Danny is very personable, open, and receptive to research advocates. Danny is also one of the few researchers focused on metastasis research – and I am living with metastatic breast cancer (MBC). We have become good friends over the years because of this; such good friends that he can take one look at me and tell if I’m having a bad emotional day. Danny is a dear friend who is trying his best to find the advances and cures to keep me alive!

    Danny Welsh

    40,000 women in the U.S. die from breast cancer each year. Over 90 percent of these deaths are associated with metastases. MBC presents some of the most challenging questions in breast cancer research. Answering these questions requires both more funding and more researchers interested in this topic.

    One very interesting aspect of the webinar was Dr. Welch’s explanation of the “hallmarks” of metastatic cells which are:

    • They must invade a distant part of the body from the original tumor site
    • Be able to survive in a distant part of the body
    • Be able to establish a new home in the distant site
    • Be able to colonize or multiply in the distant site

    He explained that a tumor cell must be able to complete all four of these functions or it will not be able to form metastatic tumors.

    “We are slowing making progress, but we are not where we want to be. We need to take circulating tumor cell information and look at the genetic changes, and we need to be able to personalize treatment for each patient.” – Dr. Danny Welch

    Karen Durham

    Dr. Welch spoke about genes that are known to cause metastases; interestingly not all 35 of these have an obvious connection to breast cancer. Exploring how these genes influence metastases gives researchers the opportunity to study them from a new perspective.

    Dr. Welch’s lab is working to understand metastasis and how to stop it. He is studying metastasis suppressor genes, like the KISS1 gene which prevents tumor cells from colonizing at a distant site in the body. He is also investigating the role of mitochondrial genes in metastasis and how these genes might make some patients more susceptible to metastatic disease. I was excited by the new information presented in the webinar. However, the bottom line is that there is still no cure for metastatic disease. The best we can hope for is that there are enough different drugs to prevent our diseases from spreading further until the cures are found. Depressing - YES – but it is also extremely encouraging any time there is something new on the horizon that may help me, or the estimated 150,000 like me living with MBC, live longer lives.

    Learn more about MBC.

    Learn more about Komen’s investment in MBC research.

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