The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 55: 889 - 897 (2011)

Vol 55, Issue 7-8-9

Special Issue: Mammary Gland in Development & Cancer

The tumor macroenvironment and systemic regulation of breast cancer progression

Published: 29 November 2011

Zafira Castaño, Kristin Tracy and Sandra S. McAllister*

Department of Medicine, Hematology Division, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA


Breast cancer is the most common malignancy among women worldwide and is the most common cause of death for women between 35 and 50 years of age. Women with breast cancer are at risk of developing metastases for their entire lifetime and, despite local and systemic therapies, approximately 30% of breast cancer patients will relapse (Jemal et al., 2010). Nearly all breast cancer related deaths are due to metastatic disease, even though metastasis is considered to be an inefficient process. In some cases, tumor cells disseminate from primary sites at an early stage, but remain indolent for protracted periods of time before becoming overt, life-threatening tumors. Little is known about the mechanisms that cause these indolent tumors to grow into malignant disease. Because of this gap in our understanding, we are unable to predict which breast cancer patients are likely to experience disease relapse or develop metastases years after treatment of their primary tumor. A better understanding of the mechanisms and signals involved in the exit of tumor cells from dormancy would not only allow for more accurate selection of patients that would benefit from systemic therapy, but could also lead to the development of more targeted therapies to inhibit the signals that promote disease progression. In this review, we address the systemic, or "macroenvironmental", contribution to tumor initiation and progression and what is known about how a pro-tumorigenic systemic environment is established.


metastasis, dormancy, systemic instigation, microenvironment

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