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Carcinogenesis. 2006 Sep;27(9):1729-38. Epub 2006 Apr 5.

Lymphatic vessels in cancer metastasis: bridging the gaps.

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Angiogenesis Laboratory, Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, PO Box 2008, Royal Melbourne Hospital, Victoria 3050, Australia.


Distant organ metastasis is the most important factor in determining patient survival in cancer. This is thought to occur via the body's own systems for transporting fluid and cells, the blood vascular and lymphatic systems. Cancer cells may exploit these vascular systems by expressing growth factors, which alter the normal pattern of angiogenesis and lymphatic vessel growth (lymphangiogenesis), thus creating conduits for tumour metastasis. With respect to lymphatic metastasis, techniques which allow the mapping of a tumour's lymphatic drainage and sampling of the 'sentinel node' from the regional lymph node group provide crucial prognostic information, determine further treatment and offer a window into tumour-host immune interactions. Aberrant drainage patterns so identified are both clinically significant, and highlight important anatomical and molecular complexities not explained by existing models of lymphatic development or anatomy. The molecular controls of tumour lymphangiogenesis and factors determining which lymphatic vessel subtypes are induced may be targets for novel therapeutics designed to restrict cancer metastasis. Furthermore, analyses of these control mechanisms will enhance our understanding of the interactions between the tumour cells and the lymphatic vasculature. For many years, disparate groups of clinical researchers and basic scientists have been working to unravel the mysteries of the lymphatic system. This review aims to summarize these contributions, in terms of the history, identification, structure and function of lymphatic vessels in cancer and the role they play in tumour metastasis. Current ideas about the roles of lymphangiogenic growth factors, their signalling pathways in lymphatic metastasis and therapeutic opportunities to restrict this spread will also be explored.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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