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Cancer Metastasis Rev. 2013 Jun;32(1-2):189-200. doi: 10.1007/s10555-012-9400-x.

Tumor dormancy and the neuroendocrine system: an undisclosed connection?

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Basic Biobehavioral and Psychological Sciences Branch, Clinical Research Directorate/CMRP, SAIC-Frederick, Inc., Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research, Frederick, MD 21702, USA.


Tumor dormancy is a poorly understood phenomenon conceptualized as a protracted quiescent state during which cancer cells are present but clinical disease is not apparent, a condition referred to as "cancer without disease" by Folkman. Examples include the incidental detection of occult in situ tumors in post-mortem organ analysis and cancer recurrence after long disease-free periods. Lack of angiogenic competency has been proposed as a major determinant of the fate of dormant tumors. Other proposed processes include establishment of homeostatic equilibrium between tumor cells and the host's immune system response and a non-permissive microenvironment for tumor growth. Recent cellular and molecular studies suggest that neuroendocrine mediators regulate the biology of tumor progression and act as endogenous modulators of angiogenesis, inflammation, and other molecular processes involved in tumor reactivation from dormancy. We review experimental and clinical evidence and propose that neuroendocrine dynamics of the sympathetic nervous system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis might contribute to the loss of tumor dormancy.

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