The success of anticancer therapies is often limited by heterogeneity within and between tumors. While much attention has been devoted to understanding the intrinsic molecular diversity of tumor cells, the surrounding tissue microenvironment is also highly complex and coevolves with tumor cells to drive clinical outcomes. Here, we propose that diverse types of solid tumors share common physical motifs that change in time and space, serving as universal regulators of malignancy. We use breast cancer and glioblastoma as instructive examples and highlight how invasion in both diseases is driven by the appropriation of structural guidance cues, contact-dependent heterotypic interactions with stromal cells, and elevated interstitial fluid pressure and flow. We discuss how engineering strategies show increasing value for measuring and modeling these physical propertiesfor mechanistic studies. Moreover, engineered systems offer great promise for developing and testing novel therapies that improve patient prognosis by normalizing the physical tumor microenvironment.
Keywords: breast cancer; engineering strategies; glioblastoma; mechanobiology; physical microenvironment; tumor invasion.