While the findings are currently restricted to fruit flies, the team from Yale University in the US say similar genes could also exist in humans.
Cancers that spread, or metastases, are some of the hardest to treat.
The research, published in the journal Science, gives hope there could some day be a way to block the spread of the deadly disease by isolating one of the genes involved.
The process whereby certain cancer cells split from their original tumour and spread to other locations around the body is still poorly understood, the BBC reported.
However, scientists know that finding ways to stop this happening could potentially save thousands of lives around the world.
The research, published in the journal Science, gives hope there could some day be a way to block the spread of the deadly disease by isolating one of the genes involved
Many believe that metastasis has a genetic base – with mutant genes in the tumour cells somehow circumventing normal safeguards which stop them growing uncontrollably then “breaking out” to take hold elsewhere.
Yale scientists say that despite their obvious differences, fruit flies and humans share many of the same genes, so it could be possible to study tumour spread in flies – and apply those findings to humans.
Other teams have already revealed a gene called “Ras v12” – present in both flies and humans – which when mutated is thought to play a significant role in helping the tumour flourish in some types of cancer.
However, this alone does not seem to lead to cancer’s spreading.
The researchers launched a screening programme – creating flies which have the mutant Ras v12 genes, then interfering with other key genes to see if they could find the combination which led to metastasis.
They found some genes which play a role in the normal running of the cell, which, if inactivated in a tumour cell, produced flies with cancers that spread profusely.
The more that researchers understand about the possible genes involved in cancer spread, the more chance there is of a method being created to interrupt it
The study is more evidence of the guilt of the Ras gene in metastatic cancer.
The more that researchers understand about the possible genes involved in cancer spread, the more chance there is of a method being created to interrupt it.
In this case, the researchers believe that there may be a clear chemical “pathway” within the cell which could influence the behaviour of many of the genes which might partner Ras V12 and cause problems.
This in theory means that a drug might be found that can activate this pathway.
Dr Wen Jiang, from the Metastasis Research Group at the University of Wales College of Medicine, said that the research was “an interesting piece of work.”
Still, he added that “the scientific community yet has to fully understand the genetic basis of this switch between non-invasive and invasive” referring to isolated and spreading cancers.