Autophagy is a crucial component of the cellular stress adaptation response that maintains mammalian homeostasis. Autophagy protects against neurodegenerative and inflammatory conditions, aging, and cancer. This is accomplished by the degradation and intracellular recycling of cellular components to maintain energy metabolism and by damage mitigation through the elimination of damaged proteins and organelles. How autophagy modulates oncogenesis is gradually emerging. Tumor cells induce autophagy in response to metabolic stress to promote survival, suggesting deployment of therapeutic strategies to block autophagy for cancer therapy. By contrast, defects in autophagy lead to cell death, chronic inflammation, and genetic instability. Thus, stimulating autophagy may be a powerful approach for chemoprevention. Analogous to infection or toxins that create persistent tissue damage and chronic inflammation that increases the incidence of cancer, defective autophagy represents a cell-intrinsic mechanism to create the damaging, inflammatory environment that predisposes to cancer. Thus, cellular damage mitigation through autophagy is a novel mechanism of tumor suppression.
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