Lactate: a metabolic key player in cancer

Cancer Res. 2011 Nov 15;71(22):6921-5. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-11-1457.


Increased glucose uptake and accumulation of lactate, even under normoxic conditions (i.e., aerobic glycolysis or the Warburg Effect), is a common feature of cancer cells. This phenomenon clearly indicates that lactate is not a surrogate of tumor hypoxia. Tumor lactate can predict for metastases and overall survival of patients, as shown by several studies of different entities. Metastasis of tumors is promoted by lactate-induced secretion of hyaluronan by tumor-associated fibroblasts that create a milieu favorable for migration. Lactate itself has been found to induce the migration of cells and cell clusters. Furthermore, radioresistance has been positively correlated with lactate concentrations, suggesting an antioxidative capacity of lactate. Findings on interactions of tumor metabolites with immune cells indicate a contribution of lactate to the immune escape. Furthermore, lactate bridges the gap between high lactate levels in wound healing, chronic inflammation, and cancer development. Tumor cells ensure sufficient oxygen and nutrient supply for proliferation through lactate-induced secretion of VEGF, resulting in the formation of new vessels. In summary, accumulation of lactate in solid tumors is a pivotal and early event in the development of malignancies. The determination of lactate should enter further clinical trials to confirm its relevance in cancer biology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Movement
  • Glycolysis
  • Humans
  • Lactic Acid / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / etiology
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Radiation Tolerance
  • Tumor Escape


  • Lactic Acid