Molecular mechanisms of cancer metastasis via the lymphatic versus the blood vessels

Stanley P. Leong, Kamila Naxerova, Laura Keller, Klaus Pantel, Marlys Witte

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Cancer metastasis is the process by which primary cancer cells invade through the lymphatic or blood vessels to distant sites. The molecular mechanisms by which cancer cells spread either through the lymphatic versus blood vessels or both are not well established. Two major developments have helped us to understand the process more clearly. First, the development of the sentinel lymph node (SLN) concept which is well established in melanoma and breast cancer. The SLN is the first lymph node in the draining nodal basin to receive cancer cells. Patients with a negative SLN biopsy show a significantly lower incidence of distant metastasis, suggesting that the SLN may be the major gateway for cancer metastasis in these cancer types. Second, the discovery and characterization of several biomarkers including VEGF-C, LYVE-1, Podoplanin and Prox-1 have opened new vistas in the understanding of the induction of lymphangiogenesis by cancer cells. Cancer cells must complete multiple steps to invade the lymphatic system, some of which may be enabled by the evolution of new traits during cancer progression. Thus, cancer cells may spread initially through the main gateway of the SLN, from which evolving cancer clones can invade the blood vessels to distant sites. Cancer cells may also enter the blood vessels directly, bypassing the SLN to establish distant metastases. Future studies need to pinpoint the molecules that are used by cancer cells at different stages of metastasis via different routes so that specific therapies can be targeted against these molecules, with the goal of stopping or preventing cancer metastasis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)159-179
Number of pages21
JournalClinical and Experimental Metastasis
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2022


  • Cancer metastasis
  • Cancer metastasis through the blood vessels
  • Cancer metastasis through the lymphatic vessels

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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