Targeting metastatic breast cancer: Problems and potential

Sarah Deasy, Karol Szczepanek, Kent Hunter*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Breast cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related mortality of women in the United States. Since the majority of cancer deaths are due to metastases rather than the primary tumor, a better understanding of the biological mechanisms that lead to metastatic disease is critical to reduce breast cancer associated mortality. Current adjuvant therapies use the same broadly cytotoxic and targeted strategies against metastases as are used against the primary tumor. However, resistance to chemotherapy due to the cellular dormancy, high genotypic and phenotypic heterogeneity between primary tumor and metastases as well as among individual metastases, and the limitations in detection of disseminated tumor cells and micrometastases significantly hinder the efficiency of currently available therapies. While it is crucial to directly address the issue of metastatic dormancy and evaluate for anti-metastatic therapy the relevance of molecular targets chosen based on primary tumor profiling, it is also imperative to address metastasis-specific mechanisms of growth and survival that are likely to be distinct from those of the primary tumor. We believe that a three-pronged approach to therapy will be necessary to deal with progressive disease: blocking of further dissemination after diagnosis; eradication of disseminated tumor cells and prevention of the dormant-to-proliferative switch of those remaining; and elimination of established metastatic tumors. The implementation of this strategy requires a greater depth of knowledge of metastasis driver and maintenance genes and suggests the need for a "Metastasis Genome Atlas' project to complement the current investigations into cancer genomic landscapes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number141
StatePublished - 4 Jun 2015
Externally publishedYes


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