Empowering Emerging Leaders
Dormant Cancer Cells: What Wakes Them Up?
By Rachel Studley
It’s hard to choose just one session from the 2022 Advocacy Leadership Summit to share. The entire event – the speakers and the information they shared – were impactful. I’ve never felt so well-informed and prepared to speak with our elected officials. I would say that the most mind-bending experience for me was a smaller breakout discussion with Cyrus Ghajar, Ph.D., of the Fred Hutchinson Institute. This came after a plenary session he presented with Simon Knott, Ph.D., of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and Keith Knutson, Ph.D., from the Mayo Clinic. Dr. Ghajar studies metastasis – the spread of cancer cells to distant sites – and how the microenvironments of these sites can either put cancer cells to sleep or wake them up.
During the plenary, Dr. Ghajar spoke about his research that targets dormant cancer cells to figure out how they evade the immune system. The ultimate question was, “What causes metastasis?” Unfortunately, his answer wasn’t one we were happy to hear. He said it’s essentially a numbers game. With 30 trillion cells in our bodies, it only takes one cell that has the opportunity to change – and that change in vascular architecture can cause cancer. What wakes up dormant cells, or disrupts tissue? These cells tend to sit on blood vessels, and things like inflammation or a wound can cause structural changes. However, he noted, the majority of people can have surgery or break a leg and never have a recurrence.
Research like this gives me hope that, one day soon, breast cancer survivors will have some peace of mind regarding recurrence. And that the talk of preventive vaccines will come to fruition as well. I’m grateful for the people doing the research – and for scientists like Ghajar, Knott, and Knutson who not only take the time to share their research, but do so in plain English. I look forward to hearing about the advances in Ghajar’s research to eradicate dormant cancer cells and what is in store for this year’s Summit.
This story appeared in the Spring 2023 newsletter, Voices of the Ribbon.
With deep appreciation to the Marilyn Lichtman Foundation, we were able to send ten members of our groundbreaking Emerging Leaders Program to Washington, D.C., for the National Breast Cancer Coalition’s Annual Leadership Summit in 2022. This is an annual gathering of breast cancer survivor-advocates from across the country and around the world. Participants attend sessions on the latest scientific research with presentations by respected researchers in the field, and hear from grassroots leaders from around the country, as well as prominent public policy experts. Here, we learn how one voice combined with a chorus of others, can change the conversation about breast cancer, a tremendously empowering experience. Upon our return, we invited our attendees to write about one of the most impactful plenaries or workshops they attended.