Hypoxia is a non-physiological level of oxygen tension, a phenomenon common in a majority of malignant tumors. Tumor-hypoxia leads to advanced but dysfunctional vascularization and acquisition of epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition phenotype resulting in cell mobility and metastasis. Hypoxia alters cancer cell metabolism and contributes to therapy resistance by inducing cell quiescence. Hypoxia stimulates a complex cell signaling network in cancer cells, including the HIF, PI3K, MAPK, and NFĸB pathways, which interact with each other causing positive and negative feedback loops and enhancing or diminishing hypoxic effects. This review provides background knowledge on the role of tumor hypoxia and the role of the HIF cell signaling involved in tumor blood vessel formation, metastasis, and development of the resistance to therapy. Better understanding of the role of hypoxia in cancer progression will open new windows for the discovery of new therapeutics targeting hypoxic tumor cells and hypoxic microenvironment.
Keywords: angiogenesis; cancer; hypoxia; metastasis; treatment resistance.