Advances in our understanding of molecular mechanisms of tumorigenesis have translated into knowledge-based therapies directed against specific oncogenic signaling targets. These therapies often induce dramatic responses in susceptible tumors. Unfortunately, most advanced cancers, including those with robust initial responses, eventually acquire resistance to targeted therapies and relapse. Even though immune-based therapies are more likely to achieve complete cures, acquired resistance remains an obstacle to their success as well. Acquired resistance is the direct consequence of pre-existing intratumor heterogeneity and ongoing diversification during therapy, which enables some tumor cells to survive treatment and facilitates the development of new therapy-resistant phenotypes. In this review, we discuss the sources of intratumor heterogeneity and approaches to capture and account for it during clinical decision making. Finally, we outline potential strategies to improve therapeutic outcomes by directly targeting intratumor heterogeneity.
Keywords: cancer; heterogeneity; therapeutic resistance.
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