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Colon cancer development and malignant progression are driven by genetic and epigenetic alterations in tumor cells and by factors from the tumor microenvironment. Cancer cells become reliant on the activity of specific oncogenes and on prosurvival and proliferative signals they receive from the abnormal environment they create and reside in. Accordingly, the response to anticancer therapy is determined by genetic and epigenetic changes that are intrinsic to tumor cells and by the factors present in the tumor microenvironment. Recent advances in the understanding of the involvement of the tumor microenvironment in tumor progression and therapeutic response are optimizing the application of prognostic and predictive factors in colon cancer. Moreover, new targets in the tumor microenvironment that are amenable to therapeutic intervention have been identified. Because stromal cells are with rare exceptions genetically stable, the tumor microenvironment has emerged as a preferred target for therapeutic drugs. In this review, we discuss the role of stromal fibroblasts and macrophages in colon cancer progression and in the response of colon cancer patients to therapy.
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