La Trobe University medical scientist Dr Belinda Parker and her team at the Cancer Microenvironment Laboratory has found that aggressive cancer cells are able to switch off immune signals in order to remain undetected in the body and free to spread.
As they remain hidden, they are able to move quickly from the breast or prostate to the bones and other organs without the body being aware it needs to fight back.
"We've been trying to determine whether a patient is more likely to develop spread to distant tissues or if they should receive therapies which could switch such immune signals back on," Dr Parker said.
"The things that we're doing now have shown that patients with an aggressive form of cancer, called triple negative breast cancer, don't have many treatment options because they can't receive targeted therapies that are currently available for breast cancer patients.
"What we're finding is if we look at these immune signals in the cancers of each particular patient we can actually predict who is likely to get spread throughout down the track."
Dr Parker said the research also found a similar mechanism happening in prostate cancer.
"There's a lot of excitement in the lab and people are wanting to translate their work towards the clinic," she said.
Everyone is working hard to push this forward.
"When people talk about cancer and finding new therapies, what they're forgetting is can we work out who should be spared therapy?
"We feel something will be implemented in the next five years."
Eight researchers, including honours and PhD students, research assistants and postdoctoral fellows working on the project.
Media; Catherine Garrett 9479 6565 / 0418 964 325
This story first appeared in the Whittelsea Leader