Valid experimental evidence has recently shown that progression of malignant tumors does not depend exclusively on cell-autonomous properties of the cancer cells, but is also deeply influenced by tumor stroma reactivity and undergoes a strict microenvironmental control. Beside structural environmental components as extracellular matrix (ECM) or hypoxia, stromal cells as macrophages, endothelial cells, and cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) play a definite role in cancer progression. This review summarizes our current knowledge on the role of CAFs in tumor progression towards an aggressive phenotype, with particular emphasis on invasiveness, stemness, and preparation of metastatic niche. The controversial origins of CAFs as well as the therapeutical implications of targeting CAFs for anticancer therapy are discussed.
Keywords: Cancer associated fibroblasts (CAFs); cancer microenvironment; extracellular matrix (ECM); progression; therapy; tumor stroma.