As if dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis wasn’t difficult enough, it seems that women who must endure surgery to help treat their cancer might face an unsettling reality: that the healing process from surgery could trigger their cancer to spread yet again.
A new study that was published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine has shed light on a mystery that many doctors have noticed: that breast cancer has a tendency to spread within the first 18 months after a woman has had a lumpectomy or mastectomy. According to USA Today, as the immune system works to heal the surgical scar, “it stops restraining cancer cells that have wandered far from the tumor site….Without this brake, those cancer cells are free to grow and become new, more dangerous tumors.” Since most people who die from cancer succumb to the disease once it has spread, rather than from the initial tumor, this study is one that is certainly worth paying attention to.
Fortunately, there might be a solution that can help. While it hasn’t yet proven completely definitive, it seems that taking anti-inflammatory drugs following a surgery can help keep the “immune brake engaged.” Surgeons tend to avoid anti-inflammatory medication following surgery because of the risk of bleeding. But since studies have shown that people who have taken such drugs following a breast surgery were five times less likely to have their cancer spread, bleeding might be an issue that is worth dealing with. There is even the possibility that something as simple as aspirin could help keep cancer from spreading following an operation.
According to Hanna Dillekås, an oncologist at Haukeland University Hospital, “to close an open wound, the immune system must trigger cells to move to new locations and divide and blood vessels to grow.” That is exactly what cancer does—so the study is spot on.
More research is needed to confirm that this therapy would be as successful in people as doctors hope.