Potentially carcinogenic compounds may cause cancer through direct DNA damage or through indirect cellular or physiological effects. To study possible carcinogens, the fields of endocrinology, genetics, epigenetics, medicine, environmental health, toxicology, pharmacology and oncology must be considered. Disruptive chemicals may also contribute to multiple stages of tumor development through effects on the tumor microenvironment. In turn, the tumor microenvironment consists of a complex interaction among blood vessels that feed the tumor, the extracellular matrix that provides structural and biochemical support, signaling molecules that send messages and soluble factors such as cytokines. The tumor microenvironment also consists of many host cellular effectors including multipotent stromal cells/mesenchymal stem cells, fibroblasts, endothelial cell precursors, antigen-presenting cells, lymphocytes and innate immune cells. Carcinogens can influence the tumor microenvironment through effects on epithelial cells, the most common origin of cancer, as well as on stromal cells, extracellular matrix components and immune cells. Here, we review how environmental exposures can perturb the tumor microenvironment. We suggest a role for disrupting chemicals such as nickel chloride, Bisphenol A, butyltins, methylmercury and paraquat as well as more traditional carcinogens, such as radiation, and pharmaceuticals, such as diabetes medications, in the disruption of the tumor microenvironment. Further studies interrogating the role of chemicals and their mixtures in dose-dependent effects on the tumor microenvironment could have important general mechanistic implications for the etiology and prevention of tumorigenesis.
The purpose of this review is to stimulate new ideas regarding low-dose environmental mixtures and carcinogens and their potential to promote invasion and metastasis. Whereas a number of chapters in this review are devoted to the role of low-dose environmental mixtures and carcinogens in the promotion of invasion and metastasis in specific tumors such as breast and prostate, the overarching theme is the role of low-dose carcinogens in the progression of cancer stem cells. It is becoming clearer that cancer stem cells in a tumor are the ones that assume invasive properties and colonize distant organs. Therefore, low-dose contaminants that trigger epithelial-mesenchymal transition, for example, in these cells are of particular interest in this review. This we hope will lead to the collaboration between scientists who have dedicated their professional life to the study of carcinogens and those whose interests are exclusively in the arena of tissue invasion and metastasis.
As part of the Halifax Project, this review brings attention to the potential effects of environmental chemicals on important molecular and cellular regulators of the cancer hallmark of evading growth suppression. Specifically, we review the mechanisms by which cancer cells escape the growth-inhibitory signals of p53, retinoblastoma protein, transforming growth factor-beta, gap junctions and contact inhibition. We discuss the effects of selected environmental chemicals on these mechanisms of growth inhibition and cross-reference the effects of these chemicals in other classical cancer hallmarks.