Cancer that spreads from one body part to another is a particular risk to patients, but understanding why certain cancers spread, or metastasize, could give doctors clues about how to stop them and save lives.

Researchers are getting closer. A study in Cell Reports says that a protein is found in larger numbers in certain cells associated with breast cancer metastases — called mesenchymal stem cells or MSCs — and details how the protein encourages the cancer to spread and grow by facilitating communication between them and cancer cells. Those MSCs have already “been shown to promote the growth and metastatic ability of breast cancer and other human malignancies, but the mechanisms are incompletely understood,” according to the study. The problem protein, DDR2, serves as a sort of organizational leader.

Read: Deformed Lemons Tell Us What Breast Cancer Looks Like

The team had examined samples of metastases from cancer patients and later mice. When DDR2 “was present in cells, the researchers could see an orderly and efficient migration in which…

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