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Clin Cancer Res. 2012 Feb 1;18(3):645-53. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-11-2186. Epub 2011 Dec 9.

Cancer dormancy: a model of early dissemination and late cancer recurrence.

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  • 1Division of Medical Oncology and USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California 90033, USA.


Cancer dormancy is a stage in tumor progression in which residual disease remains occult and asymptomatic for a prolonged period of time. Dormant tumor cells can be present as one of the earliest stages in tumor development, as well as a stage in micrometastases, and/or minimal residual disease left after an apparently successful treatment of the primary tumor. The general mechanisms that regulate the transition of disseminated tumor cells that have lain dormant into a proliferative state remain largely unknown. However, regulation of the growth from dormant tumor cells may be explained in part through the interaction of the tumor cell with its microenvironment, limitations in the blood supply, or an active immune system. An understanding of the regulatory machinery of these processes is essential for identifying early cancer biomarkers and could provide a rationale for the development of novel agents to target dormant tumor cells. This review focuses on the different signaling models responsible for early cancer dissemination and tumor recurrence that are involved in dormancy pathways.

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