Tumor dormancy: EMT beyond invasion and metastasis

Genesis. 2024 Feb;62(1):e23552. doi: 10.1002/dvg.23552. Epub 2023 Sep 30.


More than two-thirds of cancer-related deaths are attributable to metastases. In some tumor types metastasis can occur up to 20 years after diagnosis and successful treatment of the primary tumor, a phenomenon termed late recurrence. Metastases arise from disseminated tumor cells (DTCs) that leave the primary tumor early on in tumor development, either as single cells or clusters, adapt to new environments, and reduce or shut down their proliferation entering a state of dormancy for prolonged periods of time. Dormancy has been difficult to track clinically and study experimentally. Recent advances in technology and disease modeling have provided new insights into the molecular mechanisms orchestrating dormancy and the switch to a proliferative state. A new role for epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) in inducing plasticity and maintaining a dormant state in several cancer models has been revealed. In this review, we summarize the major findings linking EMT to dormancy control and highlight the importance of pre-clinical models and tumor/tissue context when designing studies. Understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms controlling dormant DTCs is pivotal in developing new therapeutic agents that prevent distant recurrence by maintaining a dormant state.

Keywords: cell cycle; disseminated tumor cells; dormancy; epithelial‐mesenchymal plasticity; mesenchymal‐epithelial transition.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms*