Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers among women worldwide, and now scientists from the University of Sheffield and University of Copenhagen have identified a possible key to preventing secondary cancers in breast cancer patients.

That's after they discovered an enzyme that enhances the spread of the disease, according to new research published in the journal Nature.

Secondary (metastatic) breast cancer is the main cause of the 12,000 deaths which occur from breast cancer in the United Kingdom every year. The most common site where the disease spreads to is the bone - occurring in around 85 percent of secondary breast cancer patients. The enzyme LysYl Oxidase (LOX), which is released from the primary tumor, causes holes to form in the bone and prepares the bone for the future arrival of cancer cells.

However, these latest findings suggest that by identifying LOX in estrogen receptor negative (ER negative) breast cancer patients early, doctors may be able to block the enzyme's activity. This would effectively prevent bone damage and the spread of tumor cells to the bone (metastasis), halting the disease's progression.

During the study, researchers also showed that treatment with bisphosphonate - an existing drug class that prevents bone loss and is used to treat diseases such as osteoporosis - successfully counteracted the changes in the bone and the spread of the disease in mice. This result makes scientists hopeful that their research could lead to a better prognosis for cancer patients in the longer term.

"This is important progress in the fight against breast cancer metastasis and these findings could lead to new treatments to stop secondary breast tumors growing in the bone, increasing the chances of survival for thousands of patients," Dr. Alison Gartland at the University of Sheffield's Department of Human Metabolism, who helped lead the study, said in a news release.

"The next step is to find out exactly how the tumor secreted LOX interacts with bone cells to be able to develop new drugs to stop the formation of the bone lesions and cancer metastasis," she added.

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