The tumor microenvironment is increasingly understood to contribute to cancer development and progression by affecting the complex interplay of genetic and epigenetic changes within the cells themselves. Moreover, recent research has highlighted that, besides biochemical cues from the microenvironment, physical cues can also greatly alter cellular behavior such as proliferation, cancer stem cell properties, and metastatic potential. Whereas initial assays have focused on basic ECM physical properties, such as stiffness, novel in vitro systems are becoming increasingly sophisticated in differentiating between distinct physical cues-ECM pore size, fiber alignment, and molecular composition-and elucidating the different roles these properties play in driving tumor progression and metastasis. Combined with advances in our understanding of the mechanisms responsible for how cells sense these properties, a new appreciation for the role of mechanics in cancer is emerging.
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