Researchers have discovered a protein which could prevent breast cancer from spreading.
Once activated, the receptor protein, which is called EPHA2, can help stop cancer cells from leaving blood vessels and moving to other parts of the body.
Breast cancer cells are more likely to spread to certain parts of the body than others, according to Cancer Research UK. Cells travelling in the bloodstream are most likely to settle in the bones, liver or lungs.
Scientists believe that with further research, they can figure out how to activate EPHA2 so that these tumour cells can't spread and cause secondary breast cancer.
Researchers from The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and the University of Manchester, were able to map how these cancer cells interacted and exchanged information with cells that made up the blood vessels.
When tumour cells spread, they first enter the blood stream and grip onto the inner walls of blood vessels.
They found that cancer cells control a receptor protein called EPHA2 in order to push their way out of the vessels.
But when these cancer cells interact with the walls of the blood vessels, EPHA2 is activated and the tumour cells remain inside the blood vessels.
In contrast, when the protein is inactive, the tumour cells can push out and spread across the body.
Dr Claus Jorgensen, who led the research, said: "The next step is to figure out how to keep this receptor switched on, so that the tumour cells can’t leave the blood vessels – stopping breast cancer spreading and making the disease easier to treat successfully."
Nell Barrie, Cancer Research UK’s senior science information manager, said: "This is important research that teaches us more about how breast cancer cells move.
"Research like this is vital to help our understanding of how cancer spreads, and how to stop this from happening. More research is needed before this will benefit patients but it’s a jump in the right direction."
The study was published in the journal Science Signaling.