How much do we know about the metastatic process?

Carolina Rodriguez-Tirado, Maria Soledad Sosa

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Cancer cells can leave their primary sites and travel through the circulation to distant sites, where they lodge as disseminated cancer cells (DCCs), even during the early and asymptomatic stages of tumor progression. In experimental models and clinical samples, DCCs can be detected in a non-proliferative state, defined as cellular dormancy. This state can persist for extended periods until DCCs reawaken, usually in response to niche-derived reactivation signals. Therefore, their clinical detection in sites like lymph nodes and bone marrow is linked to poor survival. Current cancer therapy designs are based on the biology of the primary tumor and do not target the biology of the dormant DCC population and thus fail to eradicate the initial or subsequent waves of metastasis. In this brief review, we discuss the current methods for detecting DCCs and highlight new strategies that aim to target DCCs that constitute minimal residual disease to reduce or prevent metastasis formation. Furthermore, we present current evidence on the relevance of DCCs derived from early stages of tumor progression in metastatic disease and describe the animal models available for their study. We also discuss our current understanding of the dissemination mechanisms utilized by genetically less- and more-advanced cancer cells, which include the functional analysis of intermediate or hybrid states of epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT). Finally, we raise some intriguing questions regarding the clinical impact of studying the crosstalk between evolutionary waves of DCCs and the initiation of metastatic disease.

Original languageEnglish
JournalClinical and Experimental Metastasis
StateAccepted/In press - 2024
Externally publishedYes


  • Disseminated cancer cells
  • Dormancy
  • EMT
  • Early dissemination
  • Metastasis


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