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Trends Mol Med. 2012 Sep;18(9):509-15. doi: 10.1016/j.molmed.2012.06.005. Epub 2012 Jul 13.

Hallmarks of cancer: of all cancer cells, all the time?

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Institute for Interdisciplinary Research in Human Molecular Biology (IRIBHM), Université Libre de Bruxelles, B-1070 Brussels, Belgium.


In two landmark articles, Hanahan and Weinberg synthesized into one conceptual framework 'the hallmarks of cancer', a massive amount of information describing the characteristics of a cancer cell. Although this is neither the intention nor the belief of the authors, hallmarks are often interpreted as applying to a canonic cancer cell, or equally to all cells within a cancer. In this article, we clarify the separate concepts of causes, oncogenic events, signal transduction programs, and hallmarks to show that there is no unimodal relation between these concepts but a complex network of interrelations that vary in different cells, between cells, and at different times in any given cell. We consider cancer as an evolving, dynamic, and heterogeneous system, explaining, at least in part, the difficulty of treating cancer and supporting the use of simultaneous, multitarget therapies.

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