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Mutat Res. 2003 Feb-Mar;523-524:137-44.

Mechanisms and applications of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in the chemoprevention of cancer.

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Division of Cancer Prevention, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, 9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20892-7322, USA.


Biological and chemical irritants can be the cause of irritation in a variety of organ sites. It is becoming well understood that chronic irritation in any form can initiate and accelerate the cancer process in these same organs. This understanding comes in part from the many epidemiologic studies which point out that chronic inflammation correlates with increased risk of developing cancer in that organ which is affected. One of the hallmarks of chronic irritation is the increased activity in the arachidonic acid pathway which provides many of the necessary inflammatory biochemical mediators to this process. Arachidonic acid metabolism diverges down two main pathways, the cyclooxygenase (COX) and the lipoxygenase (LOX) pathways. The COX pathway leads to prostaglandin and thromboxane production and the LOX pathway leads to the leukotrienes (LTs) and hydroxyeicosatetraenoic acids (HETEs). These classes of inflammatory molecules exert profound biological effects which enhance the development and progression of human cancers. A large number of synthetic drugs and natural products have been discovered that block many of these key pathways. Much experimental evidence in animals has shown that inhibition of the key enzymes which drive these pathways can, in fact, prevent, slow or reverse the cancer process. The data are convincing in a number of organ sites including colon, breast, lung, bladder and skin. More recently, double-blinded randomize clinical trials in humans have shown the prevention of colonic polyps by anti-inflammatory agents. These studies have primarily used non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) which block the COX pathways. Recent preclinical studies indicate that the LOX pathway also may be an important target for cancer prevention strategy. The expression of high levels of these enzymes in cancerous tissues make them an obvious first target for cancer prevention strategies. As newer more specific drugs are developed with few adverse effects this important prevention strategy may become a reality.

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