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Breast Cancer Res. 2011;13(6):226. doi: 10.1186/bcr3037. Epub 2011 Nov 1.

Breast cancer epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition: examining the functional consequences of plasticity.

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  • 1Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, 12700 E, 19th Ave, MS 8613, Aurora, CO 80045, USA.


The epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a critical developmental process that has recently come to the forefront of cancer biology. In breast carcinomas, acquisition of a mesenchymal-like phenotype that is reminiscent of an EMT, termed oncogenic EMT, is associated with pro-metastatic properties, including increased motility, invasion, anoikis resistance, immunosuppression and cancer stem cell characteristics. This oncogenic EMT is a consequence of cellular plasticity, which allows for interconversion between epithelial and mesenchymal-like states, and is thought to enable tumor cells not only to escape from the primary tumor, but also to colonize a secondary site. Indeed, the plasticity of cancer cells may explain the range of pro-metastatic traits conferred by oncogenic EMT, such as the recently described link between EMT and cancer stem cells and/or therapeutic resistance. Continued research into this relationship will be critical in developing drugs that block mechanisms of breast cancer progression, ultimately improving patient outcomes.

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