Steps in metastasis: an updated review

Med Oncol. 2021 Jan 4;38(1):3. doi: 10.1007/s12032-020-01447-w.


Metastasis is the most complex and deadly event. Tumor-stromal interface is a place where invasion of tumor cells in the form of single-cell or collective migration occurs, with the latter being less common but more efficient. Initiation of metastasis relies on the tumor cell cross-talking with stromal cells and taking an epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) in single cells, and a hybrid EMT in collective migratory cells. Stromal cross-talking along with an abnormal leaky vasculature facilitate intravasation of tumor cells, here the cells are called circulating tumor cells (CTCs). Tumor cells isolated from the primary tumor exploit several mechanisms to maintain their survival including rewiring metabolic demands to use sources available within the new environments, avoiding anoikis cell death when cells are detached from extracellular matrix (ECM), adopting flow mechanic by acquiring platelet shielding and immunosuppression by negating the activity of suppressor immune cells, such as natural killer (NK) cells. CTCs will adhere to the interstituim of the secondary organ/s, within which the newly arrived disseminative tumor cells (DTCs) undergo either dormancy or proliferation. Metastatic outgrowth is under the influence of several factors, such as the activity of macrophages, impaired autophagy and secondary site inflammatory events. Metastasis can be targeted by multiple ways, such as repressing the promoters of pre-metastatic niche (PMN) formation, suppressing environmental contributors, such as hypoxia, oxidative and metabolic stressors, and targeting signaling and cell types that take major contribution to the whole process. These strategies can be used in adjuvant with other therapeutics, such as immunotherapy.

Keywords: C-X-C chemokine (CXC); Cancer-associated fibroblast (CAF); Circulating tumor cell (CTC); Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT); Invasion; Metastasis; Platelet; Survival; Transforming growth factor (TGF); Tumor microenvironment (TME).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autophagy
  • Cell Movement
  • Cell Survival
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition
  • Humans
  • Inflammation
  • Macrophages
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / immunology
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / pathology*
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / therapy
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating / immunology
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating / metabolism
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating / pathology
  • Signal Transduction
  • Tropism
  • Tumor Escape
  • Tumor Microenvironment