Physicists reveal random nature of metastasis

Physicists from the University of Dundee and Arizona State University have used a statistical model to show that the formation of a new secondary tumour,commonly known as a metastasis, could just as likely derive from “common” cancer cells that circulate in the bloodstream, as from “specialist” cancer cells.
Their results, which have been published today, 18 July, in IOP Publishing’s journal Physical Biology, could spur new ways of thinking about cancer research, demonstrating that statistical physics may be as fundamental as complex genetics when studying the occurrence and treatment of metastatic disease. In the conventional view of metastasis, only certain specialist cancer cells from the primary tumour can successfully metastasise. These cells have been compared to decathletes due to their ability to perform a number of different tasks, such as invade local tissue, enter, survive in, and leave the bloodstream, and colonise new tissue environments.
This view explains the inefficiency of metastasis and why it often takes years to cause death in most patients, it is highly improbable that a cell would possess all of the genetic mutations required to carry out all of the above functions. In their study, the researchers also considered the possibility that a large number of common cancer cells that are free flowing in the bloodstream may, on very rare occasions, cause metastasis by pure chance.