Bone marrow microenvironment and tumor progression

Cancer Microenviron. 2008 Dec;1(1):23-35. doi: 10.1007/s12307-008-0010-7. Epub 2008 May 7.


The bone marrow constitutes an unique microenvironment for cancer cells in three specific aspects. First, the bone marrow actively recruits circulating tumor cells where they find a sanctuary rich in growth factors and cytokines that promote their proliferation and survival. When in the bone marrow, tumor cells profoundly affect the homeostasis of the bone and the balance between osteogenesis and osteolysis. As a consequence, growth and survival factors normally sequestered into the bone matrix are released, further fueling cancer progression. Second, tumor cells actively recruit bone marrow-derived precursor cells into their own microenvironment. When in the tumors, these bone marrow-derived cells contribute to an inflammatory reaction and to the formation of the tumor vasculature. Third, bone marrow-derived cells can home in distant organs, where they form niches that attract circulating tumor cells. Our understanding of the contribution of the bone marrow microenvironment to cancer progression has therefore dramatically improved over the last few years. The importance of this new knowledge cannot be underestimated considering that the vast majority of cancer treatments such as cytotoxic and myeloablative chemotherapy, bone marrow transplantation and radiation therapy inflict a trauma to the bone marrow microenvironment. How such trauma affects the influence that the bone marrow microenvironment exerts on cancer is still poorly understood. In this article, the reciprocal relationship between the bone marrow microenvironment and tumor cells is reviewed, and its potential impact on cancer therapy is discussed.