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Healing Gone Haywire: Wound-repair genes signal cancer spread

Aggressive tumors have a lot in common with wounded tissues—both show rapid cell division and the growth of new blood vessels. Those similarities inspired a new test to predict which breast tumors will spread rapidly if untreated and which are likely to be less aggressive.

The test, which tracks the activity of genes that normally mend injured tissues, outperforms existing predictors of breast cancer spread, or metastasis. Researchers say that the test could eventually enable physicians to be more selective in recommending chemotherapy to fight the spread of a cancer within the body.

The researchers assign a score to each tumor on the basis of how closely its gene activity matches that of healing tissue. "It turns out that that number is really strongly [negatively] associated with survival and time to metastasis," says team member Trevor Hastie of Stanford University.

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