Tumours are highly complex tissues composed of carcinoma cells and surrounding stroma, which is constructed by various different types of mesenchymal cells and an extracellular matrix (ECM). Carcinoma-associated fibroblasts (CAFs), which consist of both fibroblasts and myofibroblasts, are frequently observed in the stroma of human carcinomas, and their presence in large numbers is often associated with the development of high-grade malignancies and poor prognoses. Moreover, in human tumour xenograft models, CAFs extracted from the tumour are more capable of promoting tumour growth through their interactions with carcinoma cells when compared to those isolated from non-cancerous stroma. Taken together, these observations strongly suggest that CAFs actively contribute to tumour progression. In this review we highlight the emerging roles of these cells in promoting tumourigenesis, and we discuss the molecular mechanisms underlying their tumour-promoting capabilities and their cellular origin.
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