Understanding the Bone in Cancer Metastasis

J Bone Miner Res. 2018 Dec;33(12):2099-2113. doi: 10.1002/jbmr.3618. Epub 2018 Nov 26.


The bone is the third most common site of metastasis for a wide range of solid tumors including lung, breast, prostate, colorectal, thyroid, gynecologic, and melanoma, with 70% of metastatic prostate and breast cancer patients harboring bone metastasis.1 Unfortunately, once cancer spreads to the bone, it is rarely cured and is associated with a wide range of morbidities including pain, increased risk of fracture, and hypercalcemia. This fact has driven experts in the fields of bone and cancer biology to study the bone, and has revealed that there is a great deal that each can teach the other. The complexity of the bone was first described in 1889 when Stephen Paget proposed that tumor cells have a proclivity for certain organs, where they "seed" into a friendly "soil" and eventually grow into metastatic lesions. Dr. Paget went on to argue that although many study the "seed" it would be paramount to understand the "soil." Since this original work, significant advances have been made not only in understanding the cell-autonomous mechanisms that drive metastasis, but also alterations which drive changes to the "soil" that allow a tumor cell to thrive. Indeed, it is now clear that the "soil" in different metastatic sites is unique, and thus the mechanisms that allow tumor cells to remain in a dormant or growing state are specific to the organ in question. In the bone, our knowledge of the components that contribute to this fertile "soil" continues to expand, but our understanding of how they impact tumor growth in the bone remains in its infancy. Indeed, we now appreciate that the endosteal niche likely contributes to tumor cell dormancy, and that osteoclasts, osteocytes, and adipocytes can impact tumor cell growth. Here, we discuss the bone microenvironment and how it impacts cancer cell seeding, dormancy, and growth. © 2018 American Society for Bone and Mineral Research.


Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aging / pathology
  • Animals
  • Bone and Bones / pathology*
  • Cell Communication
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / pathology*
  • Tumor Microenvironment