The process of metastasis is not random. Rather, it consists of a series of linked, sequential steps that must be completed by tumor cells if a metastasis is to develop. Although some of the steps in this process contain stochastic elements, as a whole, metastasis favors the survival and growth of a few subpopulations of cells that preexist within the parent neoplasm. Moreover, metastases can have a clonal origin, and different metastases can originate from the proliferation of single cells. The outcome of metastasis depends on the interaction of metastatic cells with different organ environments. Organ-specific metastases have been demonstrated in a variety of experimental tumor systems. Moreover, we have found tumor growth that is specific to a particular site within one organ. Whether the same conclusions can be reached for human cancers remained unanswered until very recently.

Studies from our laboratory and from others have shown that the implantation of human cancer cells derived from surgical specimens into correct anatomical sites of nude mice can provide a suitable model of metastasis of human tumors. Clonal analysis of a human renal carcinoma, colon carcinomas, and melanomas has revealed that these tumors are indeed heterogeneous for metastatic properties, an observation made only after orthotopic implantation. Thus, growth in the environment of specific organs can be selective and the environment per se influences this process.

While it is clear that vascularity and local immunity can facilitate or retard tumor growth, we have concentrated on understanding how damage to an organ and the subsequent repair process can facilitate tumor cell proliferation. Accelerated growth of human colon cancer cells was found in hepatectomized nude mice, whereas accelerated growth of human renal cancer cells was found in nephrectomized nude mice. These data suggest that systemic physiological signals can be recognized by neoplastic cells presumably by mechanisms similar to those shared by their normal cell counterparts. In summary, the critical factors that regulate metastasis are the intrinsic properties of metastatic cells and host factors involved in homeostasis. The recent increase in our understanding of metastasis should provide important leads for developing more effective approaches to the treatment of disseminated cancer.


Financial support of this research was provided by Grant R35-CA 42107 from the National Cancer Institute, NIH. Presented at the Seventy-ninth Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, May 26, 1988, in New Orleans, LA.

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