Hypoxia in cancer: significance and impact on clinical outcome.

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Cancer Metastasis Rev. 2007 Jun;26(2):225-39.

Vaupel P, Mayer A.

Institute of Physiology and Pathophysiology, University of Mainz, Duesbergweg 6, 55099 Mainz, Germany. vaupel@uni-mainz.de

Hypoxia, a characteristic feature of locally advanced solid tumors, has emerged as a pivotal factor of the tumor (patho-)physiome since it can promote tumor progression and resistance to therapy. Hypoxia represents a "Janus face" in tumor biology because (a) it is associated with restrained proliferation, differentiation, necrosis or apoptosis, and (b) it can also lead to the development of an aggressive phenotype. Independent of standard prognostic factors, such as tumor stage and nodal status, hypoxia has been suggested as an adverse prognostic factor for patient outcome. Studies of tumor hypoxia involving the direct assessment of the oxygenation status have suggested worse disease-free survival for patients with hypoxic cervical cancers or soft tissue sarcomas. In head & neck cancers the studies suggest that hypoxia is prognostic for survival and local control. Technical limitations of the direct O(2) sensing technique have prompted the use of surrogate markers for tumor hypoxia, such as hypoxia-related endogenous proteins (e.g., HIF-1alpha, GLUT-1, CA IX) or exogenous bioreductive drugs. In many - albeit not in all - studies endogenous markers showed prognostic significance for patient outcome. The prognostic relevance of exogenous markers, however, appears to be limited. Noninvasive assessment of hypoxia using imaging techniques can be achieved with PET or SPECT detection of radiolabeled tracers or with MRI techniques (e.g., BOLD). Clinical experience with these methods regarding patient prognosis is so far only limited. In the clinical studies performed up until now, the lack of standardized treatment protocols, inconsistencies of the endpoints characterizing the oxygenation status and methodological differences (e.g., different immunohistochemical staining procedures) may compromise the power of the prognostic parameter used.