Background: In most patients with breast cancer, radiotherapy induces inflammation that is characterised by an increase of promigratory factors in healthy tissues surrounding the tumour. However, their role in the emergence of the migration phenotype and formation of metastases is still unclear.
Methods: A single mammary gland of BALB/c mice was irradiated with four doses of 6 Gy given at a 24-h interval. After the last session of irradiation, treated and control mammary glands were either collected for quantification of promigratory and proinflammatory factors or were implanted with fluorescent ubiquitination-based cell cycle indicator (FUCCI)-expressing mouse mammary cancer D2A1 cells. The migration of cancer cells in the mammary glands was monitored by optical imaging. On day 21, mammary tumours and lungs were collected for histology analyses and the quantification of metastases.
Results: Pre-irradiation of the mammary gland increased by 1.8-fold the migration of cancer cells, by 2-fold the quantity of circulating cancer cells and by 2.4-fold the number of lung metastases. These adverse effects were associated with the induction of interleukin-6 (IL-6) and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2).
Conclusion: The emergence of the metastasis phenotype is believed to be associated with the accumulation of mutations in cancer cells. Our results suggest an alternative mechanism based on promigratory factors from irradiated mammary glands. In clinic, the efficiency of radiotherapy could be improved by anti-inflammatory agents that would prevent the stimulation of cancer cell migration induced by radiation.