Background: Recent research has focused on signaling cascades and their interactions yielding considerable insight into which genetic pathways are targeted and how they tend to be altered in tumors. Therapeutic interventions now can be designed based on the knowledge of pathways vital to tumor growth and survival. These critical targets for intervention, master switches for cancer, are termed so because the tumor attempts to "flip the switch" in a way that promotes its survival, whereas molecular therapy aims to "switch off" signals important for tumor-related processes. Methods: Literature review. Conclusions: Defining useful targets for therapy depends on identifying pathways that are crucial for tumor growth, survival, and metastasis. Because not all signaling cascades are created equal, selecting master switches or targets for intervention needs to be done in a systematic fashion. This discussion proposes a set of criteria to define what it means to be a cancer master switch and provides examples to illustrate their application.
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