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Clin Cancer Res. 2005 Aug 1;11(15):5337-41.

Maintenance therapy to suppress micrometastasis: the new challenge for adjuvant cancer treatment.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, University of Hong Kong, Professorial Block, Queen Mary Hospital, Pokfulam, Hong Kong.


The palliative efficacy of cytotoxic drugs is routinely assessed using tumor shrinkage (response) rates shown in clinical trials. Although adjuvant drug therapy has a goal distinct from that of palliative therapy (i.e., to prolong survival by inhibiting progression of micrometastatic disease), it is widely assumed that the adjuvant efficacy of a drug will parallel its response rate ("activity") in advanced stages of the disease. Reconsideration of this assumption seems timely in view of recent developments: the realization that many predictors of short-term tumor response correlate inversely with long-term survival outcomes; the characterization of tumor progression as a discontinuous process that may include dormant phases; the understanding that micrometastasis is therapeutically suppressible by a variety of mechanisms including direct tumor cell kill, cytotoxic disruption of paracrine growth signals from normal tissues, and targeted inhibition of prometastatic pathways; the recognition that tumor dormancy not only blocks the antimetastatic efficacy of cytotoxic drugs but also represents a therapeutic end point for metastasis-suppressive noncytotoxic drugs such as hormone inhibitors; and the insight that optimal adjuvant drug therapy is likely to include both induction and maintenance components. The traditional view of cytoreductive response as a prerequisite for adjuvant drug efficacy thus merits reappraisal, with a view to accelerating incorporation of novel noncytotoxic maintenance therapies into controlled studies.

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