Hypoxia as a target for combined modality treatments

B G Wouters, S A Weppler, M Koritzinsky, W Landuyt, S Nuyts, J Theys, R K Chiu, P Lambin

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

161 Citations (Scopus)


There is overwhelming evidence that solid human tumours grow within a unique micro-environment. This environment is characterised by an abnormal vasculature, which leads to an insufficient supply of oxygen and nutrients to the tumour cells. These characteristics of the environment limit the effectiveness of both radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Measurement of the oxygenation status of human tumours has unequivocally demonstrated the importance of this parameter on patient prognosis. Tumour hypoxia has been shown to be an independent prognostic indicator of poor outcome in prostate, head and neck and cervical cancers. Recent laboratory and clinical data have shown that hypoxia is also associated with a more malignant phenotype, affecting genomic stability, apoptosis, angiogenesis and metastasis. Several years ago, scientists realised that the unique properties within the tumour micro-environment could provide the basis for tumour-specific therapies. Efforts that are underway to develop therapies that exploit the tumour micro-environment can be categorised into three groups. The first includes agents that exploit the environmental changes that occur within the micro-environment such as hypoxia and reduced pH. This includes bioreductive drugs that are specifically toxic to hypoxic cells, as well as hypoxia-specific gene delivery systems. The second category includes therapies designed to exploit the unique properties of the tumour vasculature and include both angiogenesis inhibitors and vascular targeting agents. The final category includes agents that exploit the molecular and cellular responses to hypoxia. For example, many genes are induced by hypoxia and promoter elements from these genes can be used for the selective expression of therapeutic proteins in hypoxic tumour cells. An overview of the various properties ascribed to tumour hypoxia and the current efforts underway to exploit hypoxia for improving cancer treatment will be discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)240-57
Number of pages18
JournalEuropean Journal of Cancer
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jan-2002


  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Cell Hypoxia
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Gene Expression
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic
  • Niacinamide
  • Oxygen
  • Prognosis
  • Radiation-Sensitizing Agents
  • Journal Article
  • Review

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