Feature

War of nerves

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Science  13 Sep 2019:
Vol. 365, Issue 6458, pp. 1071-1073
DOI: 10.1126/science.365.6458.1071

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Summary

Cancer is adept at exploiting the body's normal functions—by stimulating the growth of new blood vessels that nourish a tumor, for example, or harnessing protective mechanisms of the immune system. Recent studies have revealed a long-overlooked accomplice in cancer's growth and spread: peripheral nerves that branch through our bodies and regulate our organs. Those nerves churn out molecules that appear to aid the growth of cancer cells, and they alter surrounding tissue in ways that can make it more hospitable to cancer. To some experts, these basic discoveries help explain a controversial link between chronic stress and cancer progression. The work has also prompted several clinical trials testing whether blocking nerve signaling slows tumors' spread.

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