Giving Breast Cells a Little Squeeze Can Stop Cancerous Growth

Good news for breasts: simply giving would-be malignant mammary cells a little squeeze helps guide them back to a normal growth pattern

Fluorescence images
Fluorescence images of uncompressed (left) and compressed (right) colonies of malignant breast epithelial cells. Compressed colonies are smaller and more organized. Fletcher Lab

Good news for breasts: simply giving would-be malignant mammary cells a little squeeze helps guide them back to a normal growth pattern, report researchers from the University of California, Berkeley. Mechanical forces alone (yes, that includes squeezing) can revert and even stop out-of-control cancer cells, the researchers announced at the annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology, though the genetic mutations responsible for malignancy remain.

Breasts are dynamic, ever changing bundles of tissue. They grow, shrink and shift in a highly organized way in response to reproductive cycles throughout a woman’s life. Good boobies stay in line, however: they stop growing when they’re supposed to.

When breast cancer enters the scene, it disrupts this normal growth pattern. Cells shift awkwardly and grow uncontrollably, though chemicals can sometimes tame these mutant cells into behaving.

But what lady wants to take a dose of toxic chemicals when she could simply give her breasts a little squeeze instead? The UC Berkeley researchers, in pursuit of this potential solution, reasoned that physical force may exert some control on the renegade cells. They grew malignant breast cells in flexible silicon chambers, allowing the researchers to exert compressive force during these first stages of would-be cancer. As the squeezing continued, the cells began to assume a more organized, healthy-looking appearance, resembling normal structures more than malignant ones. When they introduced those cells to breast tissue structure, they stopped growing altogether, even after the researchers ceased their squeezing.

“Malignant cells have not completely forgotten how to be healthy; they just need the right cues to guide them back into a healthy growth pattern,” the researchers commented.

Now, the bad news: squeezing alone probably will not defeat cancer. However, this finding does give new clues for tracking the roots and behavior of malignancy, which could eventually lead to more effective, albeit less delightful, therapies.

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