Scientists at Yeshiva University's Albert Einstein College of Medicine have identified how a gene that contributes to the spread of breast cancer is activated.
It is hoped that the breakthrough will help doctors to predict which breast tumours will metastasize, as well as leading to the development of new preventative drugs and cancer treatments.
The study, which is to be published in the Journal of Cell Science, discovered that ziopcode binding protein 1 (ZBP1) helps cells to move, grow and organise themselves into large structures.
Studying breast cancer cells in mice, rats and humans, a team led by Dr Robert Singer, professor of anatomy at the university, that a process by which this cell is 'silenced' increases the chances of cell mutation and subsequent metatstic development.
The research also revealed that once ZBP1 is 'switched off' cancerous cells are more able to migrate around the body.
Dr Singer said: "If you could turn on this protein in cancer cells, or prevent it from being turned off, you could seriously reduce the ability of the cells to metastasize."
Last month, two new breast cancer genes were discovered in a study published in Nature Genetics that can increase the risk of the disease by up to 23 per cent.