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Autophagy plays a key role in the maintenance of cellular homeostasis. In healthy cells, such a homeostatic activity constitutes a robust barrier against malignant transformation. Accordingly, many oncoproteins inhibit, and several oncosuppressor proteins promote, autophagy. Moreover, autophagy is required for optimal anticancer immunosurveillance. In neoplastic cells, however, autophagic responses constitute a means to cope with intracellular and environmental stress, thus favoring tumor progression. This implies that at least in some cases, oncogenesis proceeds along with a temporary inhibition of autophagy or a gain of molecular functions that antagonize its oncosuppressive activity. Here, we discuss the differential impact of autophagy on distinct phases of tumorigenesis and the implications of this concept for the use of autophagy modulators in cancer therapy.
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