Extracellular vesicles transfer lipids, nucleic acids and membrane-associated as well as intraluminal proteins between cells to maintain homeostasis and regulate physiological functions. This communication system is hijacked in cancer. Tumour-derived extracellular vesicles enter the circulation and carry targeting motifs and unique messages for cell-type specific instruction of distant ecosystems to foster metastasis. In this review we focus on how extracellular vesicles provide new opportunities for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Quantification and characterisation of tumour-derived extracellular vesicles obtained by liquid biopsy may enable the diagnosis and prognosis of cancer patients. Interference with extracellular vesicle biogenesis and implementation of extracellular vesicles as cancer vaccines or drug delivery vehicles opens up therapeutic potential to treat cancer.
(BELG J MED ONCOL 2017;11(3):92–105)