How cancer cells acquire the competence to colonize distant organs remains a central question in cancer biology. Tumors can release large numbers of cancer cells into the circulation, but only a small proportion of these cells survive on infiltrating distant organs and even fewer form clinically meaningful metastases. During the past decade, many predictive gene signatures and specific mediators of metastasis have been identified, yet how cancer cells acquire these traits has remained obscure. Recent experimental work and high-resolution sequencing of human tissues have started to reveal the molecular and tumor evolutionary principles that underlie the emergence of metastatic traits.
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