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The findings reveal how mechanical stress makes cancer cells more likely to spread, or metastasise. While metastasis is the cause of most cancer deaths, there are currently no available cures. However, the new results may help scientists develop novel approaches to treat or prevent metastasis.

It can be a tight squeeze for cancer cells to escape their tumour or enter tiny blood vessels, called capillaries, to spread through the body. The cells must collapse and change their shape to do this, in a process called confined migration. As they spread, the cells must also avoid detection and destruction by the immune system.

“Mechanical stress can cause cancer cell mutations, as well as an uncontrolled increase in cell numbers and greater tissue invasion,” explains first author Deborah Fanfone, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Cancer Research Center of Lyon, France. “We wanted to know if the mechanical stress of confined migration makes cancer cells more likely to metastasise, and how this happens.”

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