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.
Lifestyle factors are responsible for a considerable portion of cancer incidence worldwide, but credible estimates from the World Health Organization and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) suggest that the fraction of cancers attributable to toxic environmental exposures is between 7% and 19%. To explore the hypothesis that low-dose exposures to mixtures of chemicals in the environment may be combining to contribute to environmental carcinogenesis, we reviewed 11 hallmark phenotypes of cancer, multiple priority target sites for disruption in each area and prototypical chemical disruptors for all targets, this included dose-response characterizations, evidence of low-dose effects and cross-hallmark effects for all targets and chemicals. In total, 85 examples of chemicals were reviewed for actions on key pathways/mechanisms related to carcinogenesis. Only 15% (13/85) were found to have evidence of a dose-response threshold, whereas 59% (50/85) exerted low-dose effects. No dose-response information was found for the remaining 26% (22/85). Our analysis suggests that the cumulative effects of individual (non-carcinogenic) chemicals acting on different pathways, and a variety of related systems, organs, tissues and cells could plausibly conspire to produce carcinogenic synergies. Additional basic research on carcinogenesis and research focused on low-dose effects of chemical mixtures needs to be rigorously pursued before the merits of this hypothesis can be further advanced. However, the structure of the World Health Organization International Programme on Chemical Safety 'Mode of Action' framework should be revisited as it has inherent weaknesses that are not fully aligned with our current understanding of cancer biology.
Carcinogenesis is thought to be a multistep process, with clonal evolution playing a central role in the process. Clonal evolution involves the repeated 'selection and succession' of rare variant cells that acquire a growth advantage over the remaining cell population through the acquisition of 'driver mutations' enabling a selective advantage in a particular micro-environment. Clonal selection is the driving force behind tumorigenesis and possesses three basic requirements: (i) effective competitive proliferation of the variant clone when compared with its neighboring cells, (ii) acquisition of an indefinite capacity for self-renewal, and (iii) establishment of sufficiently high levels of genetic and epigenetic variability to permit the emergence of rare variants. However, several questions regarding the process of clonal evolution remain. Which cellular processes initiate carcinogenesis in the first place? To what extent are environmental carcinogens responsible for the initiation of clonal evolution? What are the roles of genotoxic and non-genotoxic carcinogens in carcinogenesis? What are the underlying mechanisms responsible for chemical carcinogen-induced cellular immortality? Here, we explore the possible mechanisms of cellular immortalization, the contribution of immortalization to tumorigenesis and the mechanisms by which chemical carcinogens may contribute to these processes.
Genome instability is a prerequisite for the development of cancer. It occurs when genome maintenance systems fail to safeguard the genome's integrity, whether as a consequence of inherited defects or induced via exposure to environmental agents (chemicals, biological agents and radiation). Thus, genome instability can be defined as an enhanced tendency for the genome to acquire mutations; ranging from changes to the nucleotide sequence to chromosomal gain, rearrangements or loss. This review raises the hypothesis that in addition to known human carcinogens, exposure to low dose of other chemicals present in our modern society could contribute to carcinogenesis by indirectly affecting genome stability. The selected chemicals with their mechanisms of action proposed to indirectly contribute to genome instability are: heavy metals (DNA repair, epigenetic modification, DNA damage signaling, telomere length), acrylamide (DNA repair, chromosome segregation), bisphenol A (epigenetic modification, DNA damage signaling, mitochondrial function, chromosome segregation), benomyl (chromosome segregation), quinones (epigenetic modification) and nano-sized particles (epigenetic pathways, mitochondrial function, chromosome segregation, telomere length). The purpose of this review is to describe the crucial aspects of genome instability, to outline the ways in which environmental chemicals can affect this cancer hallmark and to identify candidate chemicals for further study. The overall aim is to make scientists aware of the increasing need to unravel the underlying mechanisms via which chemicals at low doses can induce genome instability and thus promote carcinogenesis.
Cell death is a process of dying within biological cells that are ceasing to function. This process is essential in regulating organism development, tissue homeostasis, and to eliminate cells in the body that are irreparably damaged. In general, dysfunction in normal cellular death is tightly linked to cancer progression. Specifically, the up-regulation of pro-survival factors, including oncogenic factors and antiapoptotic signaling pathways, and the down-regulation of pro-apoptotic factors, including tumor suppressive factors, confers resistance to cell death in tumor cells, which supports the emergence of a fully immortalized cellular phenotype. This review considers the potential relevance of ubiquitous environmental chemical exposures that have been shown to disrupt key pathways and mechanisms associated with this sort of dysfunction. Specifically, bisphenol A, chlorothalonil, dibutyl phthalate, dichlorvos, lindane, linuron, methoxychlor and oxyfluorfen are discussed as prototypical chemical disruptors; as their effects relate to resistance to cell death, as constituents within environmental mixtures and as potential contributors to environmental carcinogenesis.
One of the important 'hallmarks' of cancer is angiogenesis, which is the process of formation of new blood vessels that are necessary for tumor expansion, invasion and metastasis. Under normal physiological conditions, angiogenesis is well balanced and controlled by endogenous proangiogenic factors and antiangiogenic factors. However, factors produced by cancer cells, cancer stem cells and other cell types in the tumor stroma can disrupt the balance so that the tumor microenvironment favors tumor angiogenesis. These factors include vascular endothelial growth factor, endothelial tissue factor and other membrane bound receptors that mediate multiple intracellular signaling pathways that contribute to tumor angiogenesis. Though environmental exposures to certain chemicals have been found to initiate and promote tumor development, the role of these exposures (particularly to low doses of multiple substances), is largely unknown in relation to tumor angiogenesis. This review summarizes the evidence of the role of environmental chemical bioactivity and exposure in tumor angiogenesis and carcinogenesis. We identify a number of ubiquitous (prototypical) chemicals with disruptive potential that may warrant further investigation given their selectivity for high-throughput screening assay targets associated with proangiogenic pathways. We also consider the cross-hallmark relationships of a number of important angiogenic pathway targets with other cancer hallmarks and we make recommendations for future research. Understanding of the role of low-dose exposure of chemicals with disruptive potential could help us refine our approach to cancer risk assessment, and may ultimately aid in preventing cancer by reducing or eliminating exposures to synergistic mixtures of chemicals with carcinogenic potential.
Environmental contributions to cancer development are widely accepted, but only a fraction of all pertinent exposures have probably been identified. Traditional toxicological approaches to the problem have largely focused on the effects of individual agents at singular endpoints. As such, they have incompletely addressed both the pro-carcinogenic contributions of environmentally relevant low-dose chemical mixtures and the fact that exposures can influence multiple cancer-associated endpoints over varying timescales. Of these endpoints, dysregulated metabolism is one of the most common and recognizable features of cancer, but its specific roles in exposure-associated cancer development remain poorly understood. Most studies have focused on discrete aspects of cancer metabolism and have incompletely considered both its dynamic integrated nature and the complex controlling influences of substrate availability, external trophic signals and environmental conditions. Emerging high throughput approaches to environmental risk assessment also do not directly address the metabolic causes or consequences of changes in gene expression. As such, there is a compelling need to establish common or complementary frameworks for further exploration that experimentally and conceptually consider the gestalt of cancer metabolism and its causal relationships to both carcinogenesis and the development of other cancer hallmarks. A literature review to identify environmentally relevant exposures unambiguously linked to both cancer development and dysregulated metabolism suggests major gaps in our understanding of exposure-associated carcinogenesis and metabolic reprogramming. Although limited evidence exists to support primary causal roles for metabolism in carcinogenesis, the universality of altered cancer metabolism underscores its fundamental biological importance, and multiple pleiomorphic, even dichotomous, roles for metabolism in promoting, antagonizing or otherwise enabling the development and selection of cancer are suggested.
An emerging area in environmental toxicology is the role that chemicals and chemical mixtures have on the cells of the human immune system. This is an important area of research that has been most widely pursued in relation to autoimmune diseases and allergy/asthma as opposed to cancer causation. This is despite the well-recognized role that innate and adaptive immunity play as essential factors in tumorigenesis. Here, we review the role that the innate immune cells of inflammatory responses play in tumorigenesis. Focus is placed on the molecules and pathways that have been mechanistically linked with tumor-associated inflammation. Within the context of chemically induced disturbances in immune function as co-factors in carcinogenesis, the evidence linking environmental toxicant exposures with perturbation in the balance between pro- and anti-inflammatory responses is reviewed. Reported effects of bisphenol A, atrazine, phthalates and other common toxicants on molecular and cellular targets involved in tumor-associated inflammation (e.g. cyclooxygenase/prostaglandin E2, nuclear factor kappa B, nitric oxide synthesis, cytokines and chemokines) are presented as example chemically mediated target molecule perturbations relevant to cancer. Commentary on areas of additional research including the need for innovation and integration of systems biology approaches to the study of environmental exposures and cancer causation are presented.