The role of the tumor-microenvironment in lung cancer-metastasis and its relationship to potential therapeutic targets

Cancer Treat Rev. 2014 May;40(4):558-66. doi: 10.1016/j.ctrv.2013.10.001. Epub 2013 Oct 15.


Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) accounts for >80% of lung cancer cases and currently has an overall five-year survival rate of only 15%. Patients presenting with advanced stage NSCLC die within 18-months of diagnosis. Metastatic spread accounts for >70% of these deaths. Thus elucidation of the mechanistic basis of NSCLC-metastasis has potential to impact on patient quality of life and survival. Research on NSCLC metastasis has recently expanded to include non-cancer cell components of tumors-the stromal cellular compartment and extra-cellular matrix components comprising the tumor-microenvironment. Metastasis (from initial primary tumor growth through angiogenesis, intravasation, survival in the bloodstream, extravasation and metastatic growth) is an inefficient process and few released cancer cells complete the entire process. Micro-environmental interactions assist each of these steps and discovery of the mechanisms by which tumor cells co-operate with the micro-environment are uncovering key molecules providing either biomarkers or potential drug targets. The major sites of NSCLC metastasis are brain, bone, adrenal gland and the liver. The mechanistic basis of this tissue-tropism is beginning to be elucidated offering the potential to target stromal components of these tissues thus targeting therapy to the tissues affected. This review covers the principal steps involved in tumor metastasis. The role of cell-cell interactions, ECM remodeling and autocrine/paracrine signaling interactions between tumor cells and the surrounding stroma is discussed. The mechanistic basis of lung cancer metastasis to specific organs is also described. The signaling mechanisms outlined have potential to act as future drug targets minimizing lung cancer metastatic spread and morbidity.

Keywords: Chemotaxis; Lung cancer; Metastasis; Metastatic niche; Micro-environment; Organ-tropism.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / drug therapy*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / pathology*
  • Cell Communication / physiology
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Stromal Cells / pathology
  • Tumor Microenvironment*