Tumour necrosis factor and cancer


Tumour necrosis factor (TNF) is a major inflammatory cytokine that was first identified for its ability to induce rapid haemorrhagic necrosis of experimental cancers. When efforts to harness this anti-tumour activity in cancer treatments were underway, a paradoxical tumour-promoting role of TNF became apparent. Now that links between inflammation and cancer are appreciated, is TNF a target or a therapeutic in malignant disease — or both?

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Figure 1: Treatment with Coley's toxins.
Figure 2: The pro- and anti-tumour actions of tumour necrosis factor (TNF) in mouse models of cancer.
Figure 3: Pro-tumour actions of tumour necrosis factor (TNF) in the tumour microenvironment.


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The author would like to thank members of the Centre for Cancer and Inflammation at Barts and The London Medical School and also A. Mantovani for useful discussions and criticism.

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Competing interests

F.B. has funding from Ortho Biotech Oncology, who make the anti-TNF antibody infliximab. They currently fund a 1-year postdoctoral position in her laboratory.

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TNF and TNF receptor superfamilies (PDF 116 kb)

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Balkwill, F. Tumour necrosis factor and cancer. Nat Rev Cancer 9, 361–371 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1038/nrc2628

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