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Cell Cycle. 2006 Aug;5(16):1772-8. Epub 2006 Aug 15.

Cancer dormancy: from mice to man.

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  • 1Cancer Immunobiology Center, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas 75390-8576, USA.


In this review, we focused on our studies of cancer dormancy in a murine B cell lymphoma and human breast cancer. Lifelong dormancy was induced in syngeneic mice by prior immunization to the idiotype of the tumor cell (TC) Ig before TC challenge. The mice maintained approximately 10(6) lymphoma cells in their spleen throughout their lifetime despite replication of the TCs at a reduced rate. Recurrences occurred randomly. Because of the balance between replication and cell death, we hypothesized that a similar balance might occur in long-term survivors of breast cancer when the risk of recurrences is very low. We developed a sensitive assay for circulating tumor cells (CTCs) which none were found in normal age-matched women. One third of patients, 7-22 years after mastectomy and without any evidence of disease, had CTCs. The half-life of these CTCs could be deduced from other studies as probably 2-3 hours. Hence, there was a precise balance between replication of TCs (presumably from micrometastases) and cell death. Therefore, a major population of clinically cured breast cancer patients have a chronic disease controlled by their own physiological mechanisms. We speculate on underlying mechanisms based both on studies in experimental models and clinical trials.

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