Senior author Dr. Lorenzo Ferri, director of the Division of Thoracic Surgery at McGill University Health Centre, and colleagues from McGill University and the University of Calgary used both cultured cells and mouse models of cancer to show there is a relationship between infection, a white blood cell response, or inflammation and metastasis, the spread of cancer.
"We are the first to identify this entirely new way that cancer spreads," Ferri said in a statement. "What's equally exciting is medications already exist that are being used for other non-cancer diseases, which may prevent this mechanism of cancer spread."
A web-like network called Neutrophils Extracellular Traps is produced by white blood cells -- neutrophils -- in response to an infection and this normally traps and kills invading pathogens, such as bacteria.
"We demonstrated that in the case of infected animals with cancer, the neutrophil web also trapped circulating cancer cells," first author Dr. Jonathan Cools-Lartigue, a Ph.D. student from the LD MacLean Surgical Research Laboratories at McGill University, said.
"Instead of killing the cancer cells, these webs activated the cancer cells and made them more likely to develop secondary tumors, or metastasis."