Tumor budding is a histological phenomenon encountered in various cancers, whereby individual malignant cells and/or small clusters of malignant cells are seen in the tumor stroma. Postulated to be mirror epithelial-mesenchymal transition, tumor budding has been associated with poor cancer outcomes. However, the vast heterogeneity in its exact definition, methodology of assessment, and patient stratification need to be resolved before it can be routinely used as a standardized prognostic feature. Here, we discuss the heterogeneity in defining and assessing tumor budding, its clinical significance across multiple cancer types, and its prospective implementation in clinical practice. Next, we review the emerging evidence about partial, rather than complete, epithelial-mesenchymal phenotype at the tumor bud level, and its connection with tumor proliferation, quiescence, and stemness. Finally, based on recent literature, indicating a co-expression of epithelial and mesenchymal markers in many tumor buds, we posit tumor budding to be a manifestation of this hybrid epithelial/mesenchymal phenotype displaying collective cell migration.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited