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Apoptosis. 1999 Apr;4(2):115-43.

The role of radiation-induced apoptosis as a determinant of tumor responses to radiation therapy.

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Department of Radiation Oncology, Stanford University School of Medicine, 300 Pasteur Dr., Stanford, CA 94305-5302, USA.


Ionizing radiation is an effective means of killing tumor cells. Approximately 50% of all American cancer patients are treated with radiotherapy at some time during the course of their disease, making radiation one of the most widely used cytotoxic therapies. Currently, much effort is focused on understanding the molecular pathways that regulate tumor cell survival following radiotherapy, with the long term goal of developing novel therapeutic strategies for specifically sensitizing tumors to radiation. At present, there is particular interest in the role of tumor cell apoptotic potential as a regulator of both intrinsic and extrinsic determinants of the response of tumors to radiation therapy. Here we review what is currently known about the role of apoptosis as a mechanism of tumor cell killing by ionizing radiation and the relative contribution of apoptosis to cellular radiosensitivity and the ability to control human cancers using radiotherapy. The following topics will be discussed: (1) radiation-induced apoptosis in normal and malignant cells, (2) clinical findings with respect to apoptosis in human cancers treated with radiotherapy, (3) the contribution of apoptosis to intrinsic radiosensitivity in vitro, (4) the relevance of apoptosis to treatment outcome in experimental tumor models in vivo and (5) the potential of exploiting apoptosis as a means to improve the therapeutic efficacy of radiotherapy.


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