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Autonomic nerves play role in growing, spreading breast cancer: Japanese researchers

(Mainichi)

TOKYO -- A group of Japanese researchers has found that autonomic nerves play a profound role in the growth and spread of breast cancer, raising hopes for cancer suppression through genetic manipulation of autonomic nerves and other methods.

The group, which includes researchers from Okayama University and the National Cancer Center Japan, announced the research results in the online edition of the British scientific journal "Nature Neuroscience."

Autonomic nerves are types of peripheral nerves that convey commands from the brain to internal organs and blood vessels, thereby controlling such vital organs as respiratory and circulatory systems. The autonomic nervous system consists of the sympathetic nervous system that induces activities and the parasympathetic nervous system that causes relaxation. While the possibility of chronic stress contributing to cancer progression has long been suggested, it had heretofore remained unclear how automatic nerves make their way into cancer tissue and what effect they have on tumors.

The team examined breast cancer tissue of 29 patients with a microscope and discovered that their sympathetic nerves had made inroads into their tumors.

Furthermore, the researchers also found that the survival rate of breast cancer patients without a relapse was higher among subjects with a higher density of sympathetic nerves within their tumors compared to those with a lower density.

When the team removed sympathetic nerves that had invaded cancer tissue by manipulating their genes, it succeeded in suppressing breast cancer and metastatic cancer.

"We will study what conditions of autonomic nerves can suppress cancer and carefully develop treatment methods," commented team member Atsunori Kamiya, a professor at Okayama University who specializes in cell physiology.

(Japanese original by Eri Misonou, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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