Retinoids in lung cancer chemoprevention and treatment

S. Toma, P. Raffo, L. Isnardi, R. Palumbo

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In this review, we aim to synthesize the emerging picture of retinoids in lung cancer through a summary of ongoing investigations in biology, chemoprevention and therapy settings, in an attempt to clarify the possible role of these agents in such a disease. Early work in head and neck cancer has evidenced the capability of retinoids to interrupt field carcinogenesis by reversing premalignant lesions and decreasing the incidence of second primary tumors (SPTs). At this time, the completed randomized trials in lung cancer have failed to demonstrate an evident chemopreventive effect of the tested agents on different study end points, although both a marginally significant benefit of retinol palmitate in time-to-development rates for smoke-related SPTs and a potential preventive effect of retinol supplementation against mesothelioma in selected populations of asbestos- exposed workers have been recently reported. Concerning the role of retinoids in lung cancer treatment, a moderate activity of 13-cis-retinoic acid (13cRA) or all-transretinoic acid (ATRA) as single agents has been reported in small series of advanced, mostly pretreated lung cancer patients. More encouraging findings derive from combination studies, in which retinoids, especially ATRA, are added to either alpha-interferon or chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Major recent advances have been made towards the understanding of retinoids mechanisms of action; at this regard, the role of RAR-β basal or treatment- induced levels seems to be of particular interest as intermediate end point and/or independent prognostic factor, besides their known importance in lung carcinogenesis. Future research for chemopreventive and therapeutic programs with retinoids in lung cancer should be focused on the investigation of new generation compounds with a specificity for individual retinoid nuclear receptors. Such selective molecules may have a greater activity against lung cancer, with a more favourable toxicity profile, as recently suggested by our preliminary data on Ro 41-5253.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAnnals of Oncology
Issue numberSUPPL. 5
Publication statusPublished - 1999


  • Chemoprevention
  • Lung cancer
  • Retinoids
  • Therapy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research

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