As a tumor develops, this can be flagged on the cancer cell surface, as unique mutations appear in different parts of the tumor. Credit: Cancer Research UK

Researchers have found that tumors provide clues to their own destruction.

Immune cells in tumors recognize special flags on top of each tumor cell according to Charles Swanton, who is an expert on cancer development at the Francis Crick Institute in London and led the newly published study.

This is a breakthrough in cancer tumor genetics according to the international research team. The discovery could provide guidance for future immunotherapies and improve already existing drugs.

When a tumor develops it undergoes changes and several unique mutations occur in different parts of the tumor. By analyzing data from hundreds of patients with lung and skin cancer from previous studies, the researchers found that tumors that spread carry a number of biological “flags” that the immune system can be tuned to attack.

These flags are proteins on top of the cell membrane and are only found on cancer cells. This means that they are “ideal targets” for new treatments tailored to each patient to fight cancer.

Such treatments with the immune system are used already today. They have yielded very promising results, particularly against melanoma, skin cancer. But the treatment does not work for everyone and every cancer.

In order to just that, the patient’s immune system must first recognize cancer as the enemy. Scientists also note that the chance of success increases if the immune system recognizes and attack multiple flags on a tumor. It is probably, therefore, most effective in cancers with many mutations, such as melanoma and smoking-related lung cancer.

Further research is needed and Swanton hopes to launch the first human study in patients with lung cancer within the next two to three years.

The study Tumors contain the seeds of their own destruction has been published in the journal Science.

Tumors contain the seeds of their own destruction