Researchers have identified a gene responsible for the spread of cancer in the body.
New treatments may result
They hope the discovery could lead to new ways to stop the development of secondary, or metastatic tumours.
These secondary tumours are formed when cancer cells migrate throughout the body.
The researchers, from Georgetown University, have found this migration can be halted by knocking out a gene which controls production of a chemical called cyclin.
Researcher Dr Richard Pestell said: "Patients who do not survive their cancer, often don't die from their primary cancer, usually they die from the spread of the disease through the body.
"If we can understand what causes the metastasis, then we can pinpoint new targets to block the spread of disease."
"Slowing down the disease may change cancer from a fatal disease to one that can be lived with like diabetes."
Dr Pestell said a therapy that targeted only migrating cells would potentially cause fewer side effects as normal cells do not migrate in the same way.
Current chemotherapy techniques target dividing cells of all types.
Dr Pestell and his colleagues are currently attempting to "fine tune" exactly how cell migration differs from cell proliferation so they can devise targeted drug therapy.
Dr Elaine Vickers, Science Information Officer at Cancer Research UK, said cyclins were made by cells at specific times during their life cycle.
The controlled production of cyclins is essential for cells to grow and multiply.
She said: "Over-production of cyclin D1 is associated with cancer, particularly breast cancer, so there's a huge amount of scientific interest in it.
"This research suggests a new role for cyclin D1 in cancer spread, an interesting finding which adds to our understanding of how this gene is linked to cancer."
The research is published in the journal Molecular Biology of the Cell.