Opinion | Published:

Non-angiogenic tumours and their influence on cancer biology

Nature Reviews Cancer volume 18, pages 323336 (2018) | Download Citation

Abstract

Solid tumours need a blood supply, and a large body of evidence has previously suggested that they can grow only if they induce the development of new blood vessels, a process known as tumour angiogenesis. On the basis of this hypothesis, it was proposed that anti-angiogenic drugs should be able to suppress the growth of all solid tumours. However, clinical experience with anti-angiogenic agents has shown that this is not always the case. Reports of tumours growing without the formation of new vessels can be found in the literature dating back to the 1800s, yet no formal recognition, description and demonstration of their special biological status was made until recently. In 1996, we formally recognized and described non-angiogenic tumours in lungs where the only blood vessels present were those originating from normal lung tissue. This is far from an isolated scenario, as non-angiogenic tumour growth has now been observed in tumours of many different organs in both humans and preclinical animal models. In this Opinion article, we summarize how these tumours were discovered and discuss what we know so far about their biology and the potential implications of this knowledge for cancer treatment.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank their funding bodies, Cancer Research UK and Breast Cancer Research Foundation (A.L.H.); Norwegian Cancer Society and Northern Norway Health Region Authority (T.D.); Breast Cancer Now (A.R.R.); and Worldwide Cancer Research and the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation (E.A.K.).

Author information

Author notes

    • Kevin Gatter

    Deceased: Kevin Gatter

Affiliations

  1. Department of Oncology, University Hospital of North Norway, Tromso, Norway.

    • Tom Donnem
  2. Institute of Clinical Medicine, The Arctic University of Norway, Tromso, Norway.

    • Tom Donnem
  3. Tumour Biology Team, Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Research Centre, The Institute of Cancer Research, London, UK.

    • Andrew R. Reynolds
    •  & Peter B. Vermeulen
  4. Oncology Translational Medicine Unit, Oncology, IMED Biotech Unit, AstraZeneca, Cambridge, UK.

    • Andrew R. Reynolds
  5. Biological Sciences Platform, Sunnybrook Research Institute, Toronto, Canada.

    • Elizabeth A. Kuczynski
    •  & Robert S. Kerbel
  6. Bioscience, Oncology, IMED Biotech Unit, AstraZeneca, Cambridge, UK.

    • Elizabeth A. Kuczynski
  7. Nuffield Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences, University of Oxford, John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, UK.

    • Kevin Gatter
    •  & Francesco Pezzella
  8. Translational Cancer Research Unit, GZA, Hospitals St Augustinus, University of Antwerp, Wilrijk-Antwerp, Belgium.

    • Peter B. Vermeulen
  9. HistoGeneX, Antwerp, Belgium.

    • Peter B. Vermeulen
  10. Department of Medical Biophysics, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada.

    • Robert S. Kerbel
  11. Molecular Oncology Laboratories, Oxford University Department of Oncology, Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, UK.

    • Adrian L. Harris

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Contributions

T.D., F.P. and K.G. wrote the first drafts of the manuscript, while A.R.R., E.A.K., P.B.V., R.S.K. and A.L.H. provided comments and corrections before submission. All the authors contributed substantially to discussions of the content and to reviewing and/or editing the manuscript. With great sadness, Professor Kevin Gatter passed away during the preparation of the manuscript, which has been dedicated to his memory.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Francesco Pezzella.

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