profile of woman with shaved head, light blue background
Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
April 26, 2023 ·  7 min read

The Role of Collagen in Keeping Cancer Cells Dormant: A New Frontier in Cancer Treatment

Every year, cancer remains on the list of top causes of death for humans around the world. For this reason, scientists are still searching for solutions. In 2021, researchers discovered that a certain type of collagen seems to prevent dormant cancer cells from becoming active. This could change how we treat cancer in the future.

Researchers Discover Collagen Keeps Cancer Dormant

Research came out in 2021 in the journal Nature Cancer about the role of a certain type of collagen and cancer prevention. Scientists found that in mice, dormant cancer cells were surrounded by larger amounts of a specific type of collagen than active cancer cells. Collagen is the main protein that makes up connective tissue. (1)

The team then looked at patients with head and neck cancer and saw this collagen. The specific type of collagen they found in both cases is called type III collagen. Patients whose cancer had spread to their lymph nodes tended to have primary tumors with less type III collagen nearby than patients with no cancer in their lymph nodes. The researchers say that this suggests that cancer with less type III collagen might spread more easily to other parts of the body. Essentially, this type III collagen is keeping the cancer cells dormant. When that collagen decreases, the cancer then becomes active. (2)

Read: 7 warning signs of collagen deficiency that everyone should know

How It Works

When studying their mouse models, the researchers found that the collagen surrounding the cancer cells tended to decrease over time. At a certain point, the cancer cells become active again. They also noted that this collagen from the tumor changes the body’s chemistry and then keeps the cancer dormant. It does this via a process called signaling pathway, where the collagen becomes less wavy and more linear. When they disrupt this process, the cancer also becomes active yet again.

What This Means

First of all, this provides a way for oncologists to know whether or not a cancer is likely to, or about to, start spreading or not. They also found that replacing the tumors with scaffolds made of this collagen could prevent cancer from growing and spreading at all. Their study used a specialized form of microscopy to observe cancer cells inside live mice in real-time.

“We want to film them in real time so we can understand their process and their behavior,” said study senior author Jose Javier Bravo-Cordero. “If you have a tumor that has a tendency to lose collagen expression, over time the cells that disseminate may be more efficient in restoring growth and forming metastases than the ones that overexpress collagen.”

Get Your Daily Dose Of Collagen

There are several ways to increase your collagen intake daily, both through diet and supplementation. Here are some tips to help you get more collagen:

  1. Consume collagen-rich foods: Bone broth, chicken skin, and fish skin are all high in collagen. Include these foods in your diet regularly to boost your collagen intake.
  2. Eat a variety of protein sources: Collagen is a protein, and consuming a variety of protein sources, including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy, can help support collagen production.
  3. Opt for collagen supplements: Collagen powders, capsules, or gummies can provide an easy and convenient way to boost your collagen intake. Choose a high-quality product that suits your preferences and dietary restrictions.
  4. Consume foods rich in vitamin C: Vitamin C plays a vital role in collagen synthesis. Include fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C, such as oranges, strawberries, kiwi, bell peppers, and broccoli, in your diet.
  5. Incorporate amino acids: Glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline are the primary amino acids in collagen. Consuming foods rich in these amino acids, such as lean meats, fish, eggs, and dairy products, can support collagen production.
  6. Include foods with minerals and trace elements: Minerals like copper and sulfur are essential for collagen production. Incorporate foods such as nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes to ensure you’re getting these nutrients.
  7. Consume antioxidants: Antioxidants help protect collagen from damage caused by free radicals. Include antioxidant-rich foods like berries, leafy greens, and dark chocolate in your diet.
  8. Avoid excessive sun exposure: Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun can break down collagen in your skin. Use sun protection, such as sunscreen and protective clothing, when spending time outdoors.
  9. Limit sugar intake: High sugar consumption can damage collagen fibers. Limit your intake of added sugars and processed foods.
  10. Don’t smoke: Smoking can reduce collagen production and cause premature skin aging. Quitting smoking can help improve your skin’s appearance and overall health.

How to Choose A Collagen Supplement

Choosing the best collagen powder can be overwhelming due to the numerous options available on the market. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you make the right decision:

  1. Type of collagen: There are different types of collagen, primarily Type I, II, and III. Each type has its benefits. Type I and III are commonly found in skin, hair, and nails, while Type II is mainly found in cartilage and joints. Select a collagen powder that contains the type(s) most relevant to your needs.
  2. Source: Collagen is derived from various sources, including bovine (cow), porcine (pig), marine (fish), and chicken. Consider any dietary restrictions or preferences before choosing a source. Marine collagen is often recommended for pescatarians, while bovine or porcine collagen may be suitable for those without dietary restrictions.
  3. Hydrolyzed or peptide form: Collagen in its hydrolyzed or peptide form is easier for the body to absorb and utilize. Look for products that specify they contain hydrolyzed collagen or collagen peptides.
  4. Quality and purity: Ensure the collagen powder is made from high-quality, grass-fed, and pasture-raised animals or wild-caught fish. Look for third-party certifications such as NSF, USP, or GMP, which indicate that the product has been tested for quality and purity.
  5. Additives and fillers: Choose a collagen powder with minimal or no additives, artificial sweeteners, or fillers. If you prefer flavored collagen, opt for those that use natural sweeteners and flavors.
  6. Brand reputation: Research the brand to ensure it has a good reputation and positive reviews. Look for testimonials, ratings, and reviews from customers who have used the product.
  7. Price: Compare prices and serving sizes of different collagen powders to find the best value for your money. Remember that the cheapest option may not always be the best quality.
  8. Return policy and customer support: Choose a brand that offers a return policy or money-back guarantee if you are not satisfied with the product. Good customer support is essential in case you have any questions or concerns.

By considering these factors, you can choose the best collagen powder that suits your needs, preferences, and budget.

More Human Studies Needed

In their mice trials, they showed that they were able to force cancer cells into a dormant state about 80% of the time. This is exciting news, especially if they can replicate that success (or more!) in humans. That’s just the ticket, however – there is no guarantee that what worked in the mice will work in humans, at least in the same way. Humans are more complex animals and therefore so are their cancers.

“As the biology of tumor dormancy gets uncovered and new specific drugs are developed, a combination of dormancy-inducing treatments with therapies that specifically target dormant cells will ultimately prevent local recurrence and metastasis and pave the way to cancer remission,” said Bravo-Cordero. (3)

There is still a long way to go in terms of these treatments before we see them used as regular cancer treatments. That being said, their implications could be extensive and they are certainly exciting for anyone who has had, currently has, or knows someone with cancer.

“Our findings have potential clinical implications and may lead to a novel biomarker to predict tumor recurrences, as well as a therapeutic intervention to reduce local and distant relapses,” said Bravo-Cordero. “This intervention aimed at preventing the awakening of dormant cells has been suggested as a therapeutic strategy to prevent metastatic outgrowth. As the biology of tumor dormancy gets uncovered and new specific drugs are developed, a combination of dormancy-inducing treatments with therapies that specifically target dormant cells will ultimately prevent local recurrence and metastasis and pave the way to cancer remission.” (4)

Keep Reading: 7 Reasons Why Thyroid Diseases Are On The Rise


  1. Researchers discover how cells from tumors remain dormant for years before metastasis occurs.” Science Daily. The Mount Sinai Hospital / Mount Sinai School of Medicine. December 13, 2021.
  2. Dormant cancer cells may ‘reawaken’ due to change in this key protein.” Live Science. Rebecca Sohn. December 14, 2021.
  3. Preventing cancer metastasis by keeping dormant tumor cells asleep with collagen.” Fierce Biotech. Arlene Weintraub. December 13, 2021.
  4. Researchers Discover How Cells From Tumors Remain Dormant for Years Before Metastasis Occurs.” Mount Sinai. Jose Javier Bravo-Cordero, PhD. December 13, 2021.