Doctors have long known breast cancer patients with arthritis seem to have more aggressive tumors. Now new research has determined why, and the findings may lead to a possible new treatment.
Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte said they have identified what they described as an “intimate relationship” between immune system cells (known as “mast cells”) that can cause inflammation, as in arthritis, and the spread of tumors.
For the study, UNC Charlotte cancer researchers Lopamudra Das Roy and Pinku Mukherjee studied the connection in mice and found that mast cells are present in larger numbers in the bones and lungs of arthritic mice than in non-arthritic mice.
"Epidemiological studies have implied that breast cancer survival is significantly lower in patients who also had autoimmune arthritis," noted Mukherjee. ""We confirmed the relationship we suspected between autoimmune disease and [the spread of] breast cancer cells."
The findings were presented at recent American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting in Chicago.
In future studies, the researchers plan to examine the presence of mast cells in human tumor samples.