Tumor microenvironment and cancer therapy resistance

Cancer Lett. 2016 Sep 28;380(1):205-15. doi: 10.1016/j.canlet.2015.07.044. Epub 2015 Aug 10.


Innate resistance to various therapeutic interventions is a hallmark of cancer. In recent years, however, acquired resistance has emerged as a daunting challenge to anticancer treatments including chemotherapy, radiation and targeted therapy, which abolishes the efficacy of otherwise successful regimens. Cancer cells gain resistance through a variety of mechanisms in both primary and metastatic sites, involving cell intrinsic and extrinsic factors, but the latter often remains overlooked. Mounting evidence suggests critical roles played by the tumor microenvironment (TME) in multiple aspects of cancer progression particularly therapeutic resistance. The TME decreases drug penetration, confers proliferative and antiapoptotic advantages to surviving cells, facilitates resistance without causing genetic mutations and epigenetic changes, collectively modifying disease modality and distorting clinical indices. Recent studies have set the baseline for future investigation on the intricate relationship between cancer resistance and the TME in pathological backgrounds. This review provides an updated outline of research advances in TME biology and highlights the prospect of targeting the TME as an essential strategy to overcome cancer resistance and improve therapeutic outcomes through precise intervention. In the long run, continued inputs into translational medicine remain highly desired to achieve durable responses in the current era of personalized clinical oncology.

Keywords: Acquired resistance; Cancer therapy; Personalized medicine; Tumor microenvironment.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Disease Progression
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Precision Medicine
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Tumor Microenvironment*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Biomarkers, Tumor