Tumours push blood vessels with 200 TIMES the force of usual cells

Is this how cancer spreads so easily? Tumours push through blood vessels with 200 TIMES the force of ordinary cells

  • Cancerous cells have more receptors, which allow them to cluster together
  • Blocking these receptors may help to prevent cancers spreading in the body
  • Cancer spreads when parts of tumours break into the blood or lymph system  
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It’s a topic that has baffled scientists for decades – but now the reason why cancer spreads so easily may been uncovered.

Tumours push through blood vessels with 200 times the force of ordinary cells, according to a study by University College London.

This is thought to be due to cancerous cells having more receptors on their surfaces, which allow them to cluster together and act as one strong unit.

Blocking these receptors may help to prevent cancers spreading in the body, according to the researchers.  

Tumours push through blood vessels with 200 times the force of ordinary cells (stock)

To test the strength of both healthy and cancerous cells, the researchers created a microscopic diving-board like device.

The force of the cells was measured by how much the ‘diving board’ bent when the cells pushed against it.   

Results showed breast cancer cells push with a force that is up to 200 times bigger than healthy cells.

Cancer cells are thought to cluster together and form a network that sticks to the walls of veins and arteries.

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This generates a strong force that lets tumours break through weak points in blood vessels.

‘When we performed measurements we realised that the force from cancer cells exerted was much, much higher,’ study author Dr Joseph Ndieyira told The Times.

‘This allows them to move from the breast to bones or any other part of the body.’

All cells are covered in receptors that respond to different hormones and substances in the blood and on other cells.

When cells cluster together, these receptors cause their behaviour to become coordinated.

Tumours are thought to be stronger due to them having more of these receptors on their surfaces.

The researchers believe blocking these receptors could reduce a tumour’s force on blood vessel walls, which may slow or prevent cancers from spreading.

Cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body when parts of the tumour break into the bloodstream or lymphatic system.

‘Cancer cells don’t live alone — tumours are very complicated communities of different types of cells that talk to each other and influence each other’s behaviour,’ Professor Karen Vousden, chief scientist at Cancer Research UK, said.

‘These interactions affect the way cancers develop and spread to other organs, so understanding more about this relationship could help stop cancer in its tracks.’ 

The study was published in the Nature journal Communications Biology.

One in two people born after 1960 in the UK will develop cancer at some point in their lives, according to figures.  


Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world. Each year in the UK there are more than 55,000 new cases, and the disease claims the lives of 11,500 women. In the US, it strikes 266,000 each year and kills 40,000. But what causes it and how can it be treated?

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer develops from a cancerous cell which develops in the lining of a duct or lobule in one of the breasts.

When the breast cancer has spread into surrounding breast tissue it is called an ‘invasive’ breast cancer. Some people are diagnosed with ‘carcinoma in situ’, where no cancer cells have grown beyond the duct or lobule.

Most cases develop in women over the age of 50 but younger women are sometimes affected. Breast cancer can develop in men though this is rare.

The cancerous cells are graded from stage one, which means a slow growth, up to stage four, which is the most aggressive.

What causes breast cancer?

A cancerous tumour starts from one abnormal cell. The exact reason why a cell becomes cancerous is unclear. It is thought that something damages or alters certain genes in the cell. This makes the cell abnormal and multiply ‘out of control’.

Although breast cancer can develop for no apparent reason, there are some risk factors that can increase the chance of developing breast cancer, such as genetics.

What are the symptoms of breast cancer?

The usual first symptom is a painless lump in the breast, although most breast lumps are not cancerous and are fluid filled cysts, which are benign. 

The first place that breast cancer usually spreads to is the lymph nodes in the armpit. If this occurs you will develop a swelling or lump in an armpit.

How is breast cancer diagnosed?

  • Initial assessment: A doctor examines the breasts and armpits. They may do tests such as a mammography, a special x-ray of the breast tissue which can indicate the possibility of tumours.
  • Biopsy: A biopsy is when a small sample of tissue is removed from a part of the body. The sample is then examined under the microscope to look for abnormal cells. The sample can confirm or rule out cancer.

If you are confirmed to have breast cancer, further tests may be needed to assess if it has spread. For example, blood tests, an ultrasound scan of the liver or a chest x-ray.

How is breast cancer treated?

Treatment options which may be considered include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone treatment. Often a combination of two or more of these treatments are used.

  • Surgery: Breast-conserving surgery or the removal of the affected breast depending on the size of the tumour.
  • Radiotherapy: A treatment which uses high energy beams of radiation focussed on cancerous tissue. This kills cancer cells, or stops cancer cells from multiplying. It is mainly used in addition to surgery.
  • Chemotherapy: A treatment of cancer by using anti-cancer drugs which kill cancer cells, or stop them from multiplying
  • Hormone treatments: Some types of breast cancer are affected by the ‘female’ hormone oestrogen, which can stimulate the cancer cells to divide and multiply. Treatments which reduce the level of these hormones, or prevent them from working, are commonly used in people with breast cancer.

How successful is treatment?

The outlook is best in those who are diagnosed when the cancer is still small, and has not spread. Surgical removal of a tumour in an early stage may then give a good chance of cure.

The routine mammography offered to women between the ages of 50 and 70 mean more breast cancers are being diagnosed and treated at an early stage.

For more information visit breastcancercare.org.uk or www.cancerhelp.org.uk

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