Plasticity of disseminating cancer cells in patients with epithelial malignancies

Cancer Metastasis Rev. 2012 Dec;31(3-4):673-87. doi: 10.1007/s10555-012-9370-z.


Current models suggest that at a certain but yet undefined time point of tumour development malignant cells with an aggressive phenotype start to disseminate via the blood stream into distant organs. This invasive phenotype appears to be associated with an epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), which enables detachment of tumour cells from a primary site and migration. The reverse process of mesenchymal-epithelial transition (MET) might play a crucial role in the further steps of metastasis when circulating tumour cells (CTCs) settle down in distant organs and establish (micro-)metastasis. Nevertheless, the exact mechanisms and interplay of EMT and MET are only partially understood and their relevance in cancer patients is unclear. Research groups have just started to apply EMT-related markers in their studies on CTCs in cancer patients. In the present review, we summarize and discuss the current state of investigations on CTCs in the context of research on EMT/MET.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers
  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Micrometastasis
  • Neoplasms, Glandular and Epithelial / pathology*
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating / pathology*


  • Biomarkers