Advances in the biology of bone metastasis: how the skeleton affects tumor behavior

Bone. 2011 Jan;48(1):6-15. doi: 10.1016/j.bone.2010.07.015. Epub 2010 Jul 17.


It is increasingly evident that the microenvironment of bone can influence the cancer phenotype in many ways that favor growth in bone. The ability of cancer cells to adhere to bone matrix and to promote osteoclast formation are key requirements for the establishment and growth of bone metastases. Several cytokine products of breast cancers (e.g. PTHrP, IL-11, IL-8) have been shown to act upon host cells of the bone microenvironment to promote osteoclast formation, allowing for excessive bone resorption. The increased release of matrix-derived growth factors, especially TGF-β, acts back upon the tumor to facilitate further tumor expansion and enhance cytokine production, and also upon osteoblasts to suppress bone formation. This provides a self-perpetuating cycle of bone loss and tumor growth within the skeleton. Other contributing factors favoring tumor metastasis and colonization in bone include the unique structure and stiffness of skeletal tissue, along with the diverse cellular composition of the marrow environment (e.g. bone cells, stromal fibroblasts, immune cells), any of which can contribute to the phenotypic changes that can take place in metastatic deposits that favor their survival. Additionally, it is also apparent that breast cancer cells begin to express different bone specific proteins as well as proteins important for normal breast development and lactation that allow them to grow in bone and stimulate bone destruction. Taken together, these continually emerging areas of study suggest new potential pathways important in the pathogenesis of bone metastasis and potential areas for targeting therapeutics.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bone Neoplasms / genetics
  • Bone Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Bone Neoplasms / secondary*
  • Bone Resorption / complications
  • Bone Resorption / etiology
  • Bone Resorption / metabolism
  • Bone and Bones / metabolism*
  • Bone and Bones / pathology
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-11 / metabolism
  • Interleukin-8 / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / complications
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Osteoblasts / metabolism
  • Osteoblasts / pathology
  • Osteoclasts / metabolism
  • Osteoclasts / pathology
  • Osteogenesis
  • Parathyroid Hormone-Related Protein / metabolism
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / metabolism


  • Cytokines
  • Interleukin-11
  • Interleukin-8
  • Parathyroid Hormone-Related Protein
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta