Lymphatic Vessel Activation in Cancer

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2008;1131:235-41. doi: 10.1196/annals.1413.021.


Most cancerous lesions metastasize through the lymphatic system and the status of regional lymph nodes is the most important indicator of a patient's prognosis. The extent of lymph node involvement with cancer is also an important parameter used for determining treatment options. Although the importance of the lymphatic system for metastasis has been well recognized, traditionally, the lymphatic vessels have not been considered actively involved in the metastatic process. Recent evidence, however, indicates that the activation of the lymphatic system is an important factor in tumor progression to metastasis. Tumor lymphangiogenesis has been associated with increased propensity for metastasis, and lymphatic vessel density has emerged as another promising prognostic indicator. More recently, lymphangiogenesis in the sentinel lymph nodes has been shown to contribute to malignant progression. In addition to its role as a transport system for tumor cells, the lymphatic system may also be more actively involved in metastases by directly facilitating tumor cell recruitment into the lymphatic vessels. This review highlights recent advances in our understanding of the mechanisms by which lymphatic vessels participate in metastasis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Lymphangiogenesis / physiology
  • Lymphatic Metastasis / pathology
  • Lymphatic Metastasis / prevention & control
  • Lymphatic Vessels / pathology
  • Lymphatic Vessels / physiopathology*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology*
  • Receptors, Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor / metabolism
  • Receptors, Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor / physiology
  • Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factors / metabolism


  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factors
  • Receptors, Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor