In a groundbreaking discovery that may revolutionise cancer prevention and treatment, scientists have unveiled the intricate mechanism through which stress exacerbates cancer metastasis, offering hope for combating the disease.

Cancer patients, already burdened with the weight of their diagnosis, often find themselves engulfed in stress, intensifying their battle against the illness. While medical practitioners have long assumed a link between stress and cancer metastasis, the precise workings of this connection remained elusive until now.

A team of researchers based in the United States have unravelled the enigma, shedding light on the role of white blood cells, specifically neutrophils, in orchestrating cancer spread under stress conditions.

Through meticulous experimentation on mice models of cancer subjected to chronic stress, the scientists observed a startling phenomenon: stressed neutrophils eject DNA strands, forming intricate web-like structures termed neutrophil extracellular traps (Nets).

Typically, Nets serve as a crucial arm of the immune system, aiding in the capture and elimination of invading pathogens. However, in the context of cancer, these Nets foster an environment conducive to metastasis, facilitating the dissemination of cancer cells throughout the body.

Dr. Xue-Yan He, a co-author of the study, emphasised the inescapable nature of stress in cancer patients, underlining the urgency of comprehending its impact. The research team’s experiments revealed a staggering surge in metastatic lesions following exposure to stress, underscoring the detrimental effect of stress hormones, particularly glucocorticoids, on neutrophil behaviour.

Professor Mikala Egeblad, another co-author, elucidated that stress-induced neutrophil activation culminates in heightened Net formation, exacerbating cancer spread.

The implications of these findings are profound. Professor Linda Van Aelst, a co-author of the study, advocates for stress reduction as a pivotal component of cancer management strategies.

Looking ahead, the research team harbours optimism regarding the development of novel drugs targeting Net formation, with the potential to impede cancer metastasis and enhance patient outcomes.

Their groundbreaking study, published in the esteemed journal Cancer Cell, heralds a new era in cancer research, offering renewed hope in the fight against this challenging diagnosis.

Back to News + Insights