Fluids and their mechanics in tumour transit: shaping metastasis

Nat Rev Cancer. 2020 Feb;20(2):107-124. doi: 10.1038/s41568-019-0221-x. Epub 2019 Nov 28.


Metastasis is a dynamic succession of events involving the dissemination of tumour cells to distant sites within the body, ultimately reducing the survival of patients with cancer. To colonize distant organs and, therefore, systemically disseminate within the organism, cancer cells and associated factors exploit several bodily fluid systems, which provide a natural transportation route. Indeed, the flow mechanics of the blood and lymphatic circulatory systems can be co-opted to improve the efficiency of cancer cell transit from the primary tumour, extravasation and metastatic seeding. Flow rates, vessel size and shear stress can all influence the survival of cancer cells in the circulation and control organotropic seeding patterns. Thus, in addition to using these fluids as a means to travel throughout the body, cancer cells exploit the underlying physical forces within these fluids to successfully seed distant metastases. In this Review, we describe how circulating tumour cells and tumour-associated factors leverage bodily fluids, their underlying forces and imposed stresses during metastasis. As the contribution of bodily fluids and their mechanics raises interesting questions about the biology of the metastatic cascade, an improved understanding of this process might provide a new avenue for targeting cancer cells in transit.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers
  • Body Fluids / drug effects
  • Body Fluids / metabolism*
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological*
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplasms / etiology
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating / drug effects
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating / metabolism
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating / pathology
  • Tumor Microenvironment* / drug effects
  • Tumor Microenvironment* / genetics
  • Tumor Microenvironment* / immunology


  • Biomarkers