Bone metastases are a common complication of epithelial cancers, of which breast, prostate and lung carcinomas are the most common. The establishment of cancer cells to distant sites such as the bone microenvironment requires multiple steps. Tumour cells can acquire properties to allow epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition, extravasation and migration. Within the bone metastatic niche, disseminated tumour cells may enter a dormancy stage or proliferate to adapt and survive, interacting with bone cells such as hematopoietic stem cells, osteoblasts and osteoclasts. Cross-talk with the bone may alter tumour cell properties and, conversely, tumour cells may also acquire characteristics of the surrounding microenvironment, in a process known as osteomimicry. Alternatively, these cells may also express osteomimetic genes that allow cell survival or favour seeding to the bone marrow. The seeding of tumour cells in the bone disrupts bone-forming and bone-resorbing activities, which can lead to macrometastasis in bone. At present, bone macrometastases are incurable with only palliative treatment available. A better understanding of how these processes influence the early onset of bone metastasis may give insight into potential therapies. This review will focus on the early steps of bone colonisation, once disseminated tumour cells enter the bone marrow.
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