Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) describes a series of rapid changes in cellular phenotype. During EMT, epithelial cells down-modulate cell-cell adhesion structures, alter their polarity, reorganize their cytoskeleton, and become isolated, motile, and resistant to anoikis. The term EMT is often applied to distinct biological events as if it were a single conserved process, but in fact EMT-related processes can vary in intensity from a transient loss of cell polarity to the total cellular reprogramming, as found by transcriptional analysis. Based on clinical observations, it is more appropriate in most cases to describe the emergence of an EMT-like phenotype during tumor progression. Although EMT implies complete trans-differentiation, EMT-like emphasizes the intermediary phenotype associated with tumor cell renewal and adaptation to specific microenvironments. Here, we categorize the various EMT-like phenotypes found in human carcinomas that, depending on the tumor type, may or not represent analogous stages in tumor progression. We based these categories on the global tumor phenotype. The tumor microenvironment, which is associated with stromal reactions, hypoxia, paucity of nutrients, impaired differentiation, and activation of various EMT-associated pathways, modulates overall tumor phenotype and leads to tumor heterogeneity
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