Modeling chemical effects on breast cancer: the importance of the microenvironment in vitro

Integr Biol (Camb). 2020 Mar 6;12(2):21-33. doi: 10.1093/intbio/zyaa002.


Accumulating evidence suggests that our ability to predict chemical effects on breast cancer is limited by a lack of physiologically relevant in vitro models; the typical in vitro breast cancer model consists of the cancer cell and excludes the mammary microenvironment. As the effects of the microenvironment on cancer cell behavior becomes more understood, researchers have called for the integration of the microenvironment into in vitro chemical testing systems. However, given the complexity of the microenvironment and the variety of platforms to choose from, identifying the essential parameters to include in a chemical testing platform is challenging. This review discusses the need for more complex in vitro breast cancer models and outlines different approaches used to model breast cancer in vitro. We provide examples of the microenvironment modulating breast cancer cell responses to chemicals and discuss strategies to help pinpoint what components should be included in a model.

Keywords: 3D; breast cancer; drugs; environmental chemicals; microenvironment.

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

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Carcinoma, Intraductal, Noninfiltrating / diagnosis
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Disease Progression
  • Drug Screening Assays, Antitumor
  • Epithelium / pathology
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inflammation
  • Models, Statistical
  • Neoplasms
  • Phenotype
  • Tissue Engineering
  • Tumor Microenvironment / drug effects*


  • Antineoplastic Agents