Plasticity refers to the ability of cells to adopt a spectrum of states or phenotypes. In cancer, it is a critical contributor to tumor initiation, progression, invasiveness, and therapy resistance, and it has recently been recognized as an emerging cancer hallmark. Plasticity can occur as a result of cell-intrinsic factors (e.g., genetic, transcriptional, or epigenetic fluctuations), or through cell-extrinsic cues (e.g., signaling from components of the tumor microenvironment or selective pressure from therapy). Over the past decade, technological advances, analysis of patient samples, and studies in mouse model systems have led to a deeper understanding of how such plastic states come about. In this review, we discuss: (i) the definition of plasticity; (ii) methods to measure and quantify plasticity; (iii) the clinical relevance of plasticity; and (iv) therapeutic hypotheses to modulate plasticity in the clinic.

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