The Importance of Cancer-Associated Fibroblasts in the Pathogenesis of Head and Neck Cancers

Authors: Martina Raudenská 1;  Markéta Svobodová 2;  Jaromír Gumulec 2;  Martin Falk 3;  Michal Masařík 1,2,4
Authors‘ workplace: Fyziologický ústav, LF MU, Brno 1;  Ústav patologické fyziologie, LF MU, Brno 2;  Biofyzikální ústav AV ČR, v. v. i., Brno 3;  1. LF UK a BIOCEV – Biotechnologické a biomedicínské centrum AV ČR, v. v. i., Vestec 4
Published in: Klin Onkol 2020; 33(1): 39-48
Category: Review
doi: 10.14735/amko202039


Background: Despite progress in anticancer therapies, head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) has still a low survival rate. Recent studies have shown that tumour stroma may play an important role in the pathogenesis of this malignant disease. Fibroblasts are a major component of the tumour microenvironment and may significantly influence HNSCC progression as indicated by the contribution they make to important hallmarks of cancer, such as inflammation, non-restricted growth, angiogenesis, invasion, metastasis, and therapy resistance. It is well known that tumour cells can confer a cancer-associated fibroblast (CAF) phenotype that supports the growth and dissemination of cancer cells. CAFs can stimulate cancer progression through cell-cell contacts and communication, remodelling of extracellular matrix, and production of many signal molecules and matrix metalloproteinases. Consequently, genetic changes in epithelial cells are probably not the only factor that drives HNSCC carcinogenesis. Non-genetic changes in the tumour stroma can also be significantly involved. Stress-induced signals can induce a multicellular program, creating a field of tissue that is predisposed to malignant transformation. The “field cancerization” concept represents a process of active evolution of intercellular interactions and feedback loops between tumour and stromal cells. This model paves the way to study cancer from a new perspective and identify new therapeutic targets.

Purpose: In this review, we discuss current knowledge about CAFs, such as their cellular origin, phenotypical plasticity and functional heterogeneity, and stress their contribution to HNSCC progression.

This article was supported by the project AZV 16-29835A.

The authors declare they have no potential conflicts of interest concerning drugs, products, or services used in the study.

The Editorial Board declares that the manuscript met the ICMJE recommendation for biomedical papers.

Submitted: 18. 6. 2019

Accepted: 9. 9. 2019


extracellular matrix – Angiogenesis – head and neck squamous cell carcinoma – cancer-associated fibroblasts – cancer microenvironment – neoplasm metastasis


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