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Hypoxia and Radiation Therapy: Past History, Ongoing Research, and Future Promise

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Tumor hypoxia influences the outcome of treatment with radiotherapy, chemotherapy and even surgery, not only for the treatment of large bulky tumors with extensive necrosis, but also in the treatment of very small primary tumors and recurrences, micrometastases, and surgical margins with microscopic tumor involvement. Because hypoxic tumor cells are resistant to radiation and to many anticancer drugs, many approaches to circumventing the therapeutic resistance induced by hypoxia have been examined in laboratory studies and clinical trials. In this review, these approaches and the results of past laboratory and clinical studies are described and the limitations of the past agents and their testing are discussed. We describe the importance of new technologies for measuring hypoxia in human tumors, which allow assessment of pretreatment tumor oxygen levels and changes in hypoxia over the course of prolonged treatment regimens. These offer the possibility of improving the design of clinical trials and the selection of patients who will benefit from hypoxia-directed therapies, as well as the possibility of facilitating the development of better agents and regimens for use in hypoxia-directed therapy. We also discuss how the improved understanding of the abnormal vascular beds in solid tumors and of the effects of hypoxia and related microenvironmental insults, resulting from recent and ongoing research, offers the potential for finding new therapeutic targets, that may lead to the development of new agents and novel therapeutic approaches for selectively targeting cells in the adverse microenvironments within solid tumors.

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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2009

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  • Current Molecular Medicine is an interdisciplinary journal focused on providing the readership with current and comprehensive reviews on fundamental molecular mechanisms of disease pathogenesis, the development of molecular-diagnosis and/or novel approaches to rational treatment. The reviews should be of significant interest to basic researchers and clinical investigators in molecular medicine. Periodically the journal will invite guest editors to devote an issue on a basic research area that shows promise to advance our understanding of the molecular mechanism(s) of a disease or has potential for clinical applications.
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