Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is an important process in embryonic development, fibrosis, and cancer metastasis. During cancer progression, the activation of EMT permits cancer cells to acquire migratory, invasive, and stem-like properties. A growing body of evidence supports the critical link between EMT and cancer stemness. However, contradictory results have indicated that the inhibition of EMT also promotes cancer stemness, and that mesenchymal-epithelial transition, the reverse process of EMT, is associated with the tumor-initiating ability required for metastatic colonization. The concept of ‘intermediate-state EMT’ provides a possible explanation for this conflicting evidence. In addition, recent studies have indicated that the appearance of ‘hybrid’ epithelial-mesenchymal cells is favorable for the establishment of metastasis. In summary, dynamic changes or plasticity between the epithelial and the mesenchymal states rather than a fixed phenotype is more likely to occur in tumors in the clinical setting. Further studies aimed at validating and consolidating the concept of intermediate-state EMT and hybrid tumors are needed for the establishment of a comprehensive profile of cancer metastasis.
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