Cancer invasion and metastasis: interacting ecosystems

Virchows Arch. 2009 Jun;454(6):599-622. doi: 10.1007/s00428-009-0784-0. Epub 2009 May 27.


Malignant tumors invade and metastasize. They consist of cancer cells, evolving through genetic and epigenetic modulation, mixed with tumor-associated host cells, emerging from resident or bone marrow-derived precursors. These cells establish ecosystems to activate cellular programs for local invasion and distant metastasis. Characteristic of such malignancy-related activities is communication inside ecosystems between cells, ligands, receptor protein complexes, and signaling pathways as well as between ecosystems comprising the primary tumor, lymph node and distant metastasis, bone marrow and blood and lymph circulation. Complexity is another characteristic, resulting from: heterogeneity of the cell populations; the numbers of promoter and suppressor genes, their levels of regulation, and the pleiotropic activities of their products; biological redundancy of the molecular mechanisms underpinning invasion-related activities. Clinical attention is paid to putative new targets, namely host cells, individual molecules and their signaling pathways, as well as the effects of current treatment on invasion and metastasis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness / pathology
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness / physiopathology*
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / pathology
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / physiopathology*
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / therapy
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology*
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Signal Transduction