Most cancer deaths are not caused by the primary tumor, but by secondary tumors formed through metastasis, a complex and poorly understood process. Cues from the tumor microenvironment, such as the biochemical composition, cellular population, extracellular matrix, and tissue (fluid) mechanics, have been indicated to play a pivotal role in the onset of metastasis. Dissecting the role of these cues from the tumor microenvironment in a controlled manner is challenging, but essential to understanding metastasis. Recently, cancer-on-a-chip models have emerged as a tool to study the tumor microenvironment and its role in metastasis. These models are based on microfluidic chips and contain small chambers for cell culture, enabling control over local gradients, fluid flow, tissue mechanics, and composition of the local environment. Here, we review the recent contributions of cancer-on-a-chip models to our understanding of the role of the tumor microenvironment in the onset of metastasis, and provide an outlook for future applications of this emerging technology.
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