Data accumulating during the last two decades suggest that tumorigenesis is held in check by two major intrinsic failsafe mechanisms; apoptosis and cellular senescence. While apoptosis is a programmed cell death process, cellular senescence, which is the focus of this article, is defined as irreversible cell cycle arrest. This process is triggered either by telomere erosion or by acute stress signals including oncogenic stress induced by overactive oncogenes or underactive tumor suppressor genes. The outcome of this is often replication overload and oxidative stress resulting in DNA damage. Oncogenic stress induces at least three intrinsic pathways, p16/pRb-, Arf/p53/p21- and the DNA damage response (DDR)-pathways, that induce premature senescence if the stress exceeds a threshold level. Oncogene-induced senescence (OIS) is frequently observed in premalignant lesions both in animal tumor models and in human patients but is essentially absent in advanced cancers, suggesting that malignant tumor cells have found ways to bypass or escape senescence. This review focuses on cell-autonomous mechanism by which certain oncogenes, tumor suppressor genes and components of the DDR/DNA-repair machinery suppress senescence - mechanisms that are exploited by tumor cells to evade senescence and continue to multiply. In this way, tumor cells become addicted to the continuous activity of senescence suppressor proteins. However, some senescence pathways, although under suppression, may remain intact and can be re-established if senescence suppressor proteins are inactivated or if senescence inducers are reactivated. This can hopefully form the basis for a "pro-senescence therapy" strategy to combat cancer in the future.
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