For the study, researchers studied cancer cells and mice to better understand the role of integrins, the body's 'Velcro', which anchors healthy and cancer cells and stops the spread of cancer cells round the body.
The team found that faults in the p53 protein can interfere with the way integrins are distributed across the cells' surface, which means that the cells drift throughout the body.
Lead researcher Professor Jim Norman, from Cancer Research UK's Beatson Institute in Glasgow, said: ‘These results could lead to the development of new potential targets for future drugs to stop cancer spread.
‘While it maybe some time before such drugs are available, there are clinical trials already in progress to test whether drugs that block integrins can be used to treat cancer - but now we know p53 plays a key role in changing the way integrin behaves to drive cancer spread.'
The findings were presented at the National Cancer Research Institute Cancer conference in Birmingham.