Autophagy is the mechanism by which cells consume parts of themselves to survive starvation and stress. This self-cannibalization limits cell death and tissue inflammation, recycles energy and biosynthetic substrates and removes damaged proteins and organelles, accumulation of which is toxic. In normal tissues, autophagy-mediated damage mitigation may suppress tumorigenesis, while in advanced tumors macromolecular recycling may support survival by buffering metabolic demand under stress. As a result, autophagy-activation in normal cells may suppress tumorigenesis, while autophagy inhibition may be beneficial for the therapy of established tumors. The mechanisms by which autophagy supports cancer cell metabolism are slowly emerging. As cancer is being increasingly recognized as a metabolic disease, how autophagy-mediated catabolism impacts cellular and mammalian metabolism and tumor growth is of great interest. Most cancer therapeutics induce autophagy, either directly by modulating signaling pathways that control autophagy in the case of many targeted therapies, or indirectly in the case of cytotoxic therapy. However, the functional consequence of autophagy induction in the context of cancer therapy is not yet clear. A better understanding of how autophagy modulates cell metabolism under various cellular stresses and the consequences of this on tumorigenesis will help develop better therapeutic strategies against cancer prevention and treatment.
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