NOTRE DAME -

There is more than football going on at Notre Dame right now. In fact, researchers at the University are studying breast cancer and how it spreads. The hope is this could lead to new ways to fight the disease.

Its uncomfortable, but at some point, most women will get a mammogram to screen for breast cancer. The hope is to catch that cancer early because experts say it is easier to treat and less likely to spread.

"When you are talking about what people die from who pass away from cancer it is that process, the metastasis of cancer cells to different sites," says Dr. Zachary Schafer an Assistant Professor of Cancer Biology at Notre Dame is hoping to figure out how cancer is able to do metastasize.

Schafer says normally the body is able to keep cells from traveling but cancer cells are unique.

"We are talking about the process of where somebody has breast cancer and those cells leave the mammary gland and they would end up, for example, in the lungs or brain," says Schafer, "what we are trying to understand is how is it they survive when they make that trip? Normally there would be programs in place to eliminate those cells. Cancer cells find ways to turn off those cell death pathways and survive."

Schafer is leading a team looking primarily at breast cancer. Schafer received an $800,000 grant in July from the American Cancer Society but his research has been going on for about 8 years.

"We know a lot more now than we did when we started working on this, but it is something that takes a lot of time," says Schafer.

The hope is, by learning how cancer cells are able to move throughout the body, they can also learn how to fight them.

"If we figure out how we turn off those death pathways, then the idea can be, can we turn them back on so they can't survive that trip," he says.

"As with a lot of things in science, the more you figure out, it tends to do is open up additional questions," says Schafer.

And while it could be years before Schafer's team has all the answers, what they do in the lab at Notre Dame could ultimately have an impact on patients.