On the emergence of multifocal cancers

Dominik Wodarz, Yoh Iwasa, Natalia L. Komarova

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Several tumors can exist as multiple lesions within a tissue. The lesions may either arise independently, or they may be monoclonal. The importance of multiple lesions for tumor staging, progression, and treatment is subject to debate. Here we use mathematical models to analyze the emergence of multiple, clonally related lesions within a single tissue. We refer to them as multifocal cancers. We find that multifocal cancers can arise through a dynamical interplay between tumor promoting and inhibiting factors. This requires that tumor promoters act locally, while tumor inhibitors act over a longer range. An example of such factors may be angiogenesis promoters and inhibitors. The model further suggests that multifocal cancers represent an intermediate stage in cancer progression as the tumor evolves away from inhibition and towards promotion. Different patterns of progression can be distinguished: (i) If tumor inhibition is strong, the initial growth occurs as a unifocal and self contained lesion; progression occurs through bifurcation of the lesion and this gives rise to multiple lesions. As the tumor continues to evolve and pushes the balance between inhibition and promotion further towards promotion, the multiple lesions eventually give rise to a single large mass which can invade the entire tissue. (ii) If tumor inhibition is weaker upon initiation, growth can occur as a single lesion without the occurrence of multiple lesions, until the entire tissue is invaded. The model suggests that the sum of the tumor sizes across all lesions is the best characteristic which correlates with the stage and metastatic potential of the tumor.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3
JournalJournal of Carcinogenesis
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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