Multicellular spheroids in ovarian cancer metastases: Biology and pathology

Gynecol Oncol. 2009 Apr;113(1):143-8. doi: 10.1016/j.ygyno.2008.11.032. Epub 2009 Jan 10.


Epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC) has a relatively high mortality rate ( approximately 55%). One of the presiding causes is that the current chemotherapeutic regimes are unable to achieve sustained remission, despite frequently producing a positive response at first treatment. One of the reasons that EOC is difficult to treat is that the mechanism of dissemination is unusual. EOC dissemination characteristically involves local invasion of pelvic and abdominal organs. Unlike many epithelial cancers, initial dissemination rarely requires the vasculature, although the vasculature is often implicated in the advanced stages of disease. Recently, it has become apparent that aggregates of malignant cells (spheroids) contained within malignant ascites represent a significant impediment to efficacious treatment of late stage EOC. In vivo, spheroids are present in the malignant ascites of EOC patients, while in vitro cultured spheroids are capable of tumorgenesis in vivo and display a reduced response to chemotherapeutic drugs when compared to monolayers. A major problem associated with the current generation of chemotherapy agents is that they do not address the anchorage- and vascular-independent growth conditions associated with a 3-dimensional structure that has formed and/or grown in suspension. Thus, spheroid formation may represent a key component of platinum/taxane-sensitive recurrence. If this is correct, a better understanding of spheroid biology may contribute to the identification of new treatment opportunities for the sustained treatment of metastatic EOC. This review article outlines the key biological features of spheroids, specifically discussing their role in EOC dissemination and chemo-response as well as providing insights into spheroid functionality.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Spheroids, Cellular / pathology